Mark Bibby Jackson reviews The Last Girl To Die, the latest novel by best-selling author Helen Fields, which is set on the Isle of Mull Scotland.
(This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.)
The Last Girl to Die starts in familiar territory. A teenage girl goes missing. The police do not take her disappearance seriously so her worried parents hire a private investigator to discover her. The girl’s body is discovered several days later in a cave horribly mutilated. Devotees of the thriller genre will recognise the lie of the land, but what Helen Fields manages to do in her latest novel is to weave current social issues such as being an outsider in a closed community, and the treatment of women in a misogynistic society, with the mystical legends of the Scottish Isle of Mull.
At the centre of it all is investigator Sadie Levesque whose quest to find Arianna Clark’s murderer takes on Odyssean proportions as she tussles with the ethical dilemma of whether she should solve the case or return to her native Canada for the birth of her first niece.
An Outsider in Mull
One of the strong themes running though the novel is the sense of being an outsider in a small community. Sadie has a non-stop battle with Sergeant Eggo – you sense the second g is redundant – the head of police on the island, who resents the intervention of this foreign intruder, and woman. Sadie is not the only outsider on the island, for Arianna was American, a key factor in the police’s reluctance to treat her case seriously.
When another girl goes missing – this time a local – the police realise they may have a serial murderer on their hands and demonstrate much greater eagerness to find the culprit.
Strong Female Role Models
Sadie’s other problem is that she is a woman in a clearly misogynistic society. Throughout you sense that Mull is not a safe place for women, something that Sadie battles against both metaphorically and in reality throughout the novel. Author Fields apologises in her author’s note about her unfavourable portrayal of the island community, which she affirms is far from the truth.
Sadie is not the only strong female character in The Last Girl to Die. Hilda who plays the leader of a coven of modern day witches makes the strongest impression.
Steeped in Mystery and Legend
As part of her research for The Last Girl to Die, Fields discovered a number of legends about the Isle of Mull, many to do with their supposed witches, or strong women in a patriarchal society. This she gradually weaves into the novel, as the genre evolves from a traditional detective yarn into something more mystical, without transcending into the supernatural.
Fields constantly drives the plot forwards with her strong narrative. Economical without slipping into the harshness of certain thriller writers, the author plots Sadie’s pursuit of the truth with an Oedipean obsession. Fields also incorporates sufficient twists and murders, as well as red herrings to satisfy even the most demanding follower of Midsomer Murders.
The Isle of Mull
In many respects, it is the Isle of Mull itself that is the star of the show. The characters might have been invented, but the landscape, castles, history and legend are true. It is impossible to read The Last Girl To Die without wishing to visit the Isle of Mull, although hopefully without meeting the same end as Arianna.
About Helen Fields
Helen Fields has 11 bestselling novels translated into 22 languages. She has twice been long-listed for the Mcilvanney Scottish Crime Book of the Year. Perfect Kill was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, while Perfect Remains was shortlisted for the Bronze Bat, Dutch debut crime novel of the year.
The Last Girl To Die
All photos: credit Robert Perry.