The Last Thing He Told Me

In an age of domestic thrillers, a novel about a functional, loving family might feel refreshing and even surprising. In Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me: A Novel, extraordinary circumstances severely test the connections of one such family.

Hannah Hall’s devoted husband, coding prodigy Owen Michaels, vanishes on the same day that the FBI raids his company for major securities fraud. He departs with an unusually large duffel bag stuffed with cash for his sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. And for his befuddled wife, who also happens to be Bailey’s stepmother, he leaves a cryptic message with one directive: “Protect her.”

Hannah is desperate to comply with his request, but she also desires answers. While she seeks the truth about her missing husband and deals with the legal complications that have arisen as a result of his abduction, she also tries to nurture a stepdaughter who has little interest in her.

As these events occur in the present, flashbacks reveal the evolution of Hannah’s relationships and provide insight into her husband’s life. Along the way, her own background is revealed. Her choices in the present are shaped by long-standing abandonment issues, and the attorney she turns to for assistance navigating these perilous waters is her ex-fiancé.

At times, the drama becomes a touch thin. The tale is set against the backdrop of a half-billion-dollar financial crisis, but despite Owen’s prominent role, Hannah and Bailey are not pursued by the press. They are frequently at odds with authorities, Bailey’s classmates, and Owen and Hannah’s acquaintances. Additionally, the stepmother and stepdaughter maintain their anonymity as a maelstrom of scandal erupts around the company’s CEO.

By downplaying the conflict, the novel can place a greater emphasis on character development and relationships. Hannah’s insights and epiphanies on how to raise an untrusting adolescent are hardly revolutionary, but they serve as excellent reminders of what matters most.

As a result, Dave creates something both fresh and familiar: a domestic suspense thriller that unnerves and then reassures. This is the polar opposite of how novels such as Gone Girl or My Lovely Wife are built; in The Last Thing He Told Me, the surface is nasty, the situation is unpleasant, but practically everyone involved is fundamentally decent. Dave has provided readers with what many people desire at the moment—an engaging yet reassuring diversion.

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