Book review: Last One to Leave & Fool Me Twice by Benjamin Stevenson

Friday, May 24, 2024 Permalink

I was so excited to get this book I even made an Instagram reel. And I hate reels as even the smoothest people often look awkward and or like naff try-hards. 🙄  Anyhoo, these novellas (by the very-talented Benjamin Stevenson) came out as Audible Originals a couple of years ago and have now been paired as a double-header and the quality of both stories is excellent. I can imagine them as episodes of Black Mirror or similar. They’re suspenseful, creepy and very very clever.

Book review: Last One to Leave & Fool Me Twice by Benjamin StevensonLast One To Leave
by Benjamin Stevenson
Published by Michael Joseph
on 28/05/2024
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1761346164
Pages: 144
four-stars
Goodreads

Seven strangers are invited to compete to win a clifftop mansion. The rules are each contestant must have at least one hand in contact with one part of the house at all times. The last one to take their hand off, wins the house. Then, after 36 hours, a contestant is murdered. And soon they start to realise that it may not be the last person to leave the house that wins it, it may be the last person alive. A locked room mystery where the door is open, but no-one wants to walk through it.

Although there are seven players in this game (and we meet them all) it’s Ryan who’s our narrator. A reluctant participant, he’s doing it at the urging of his daughter Lydia. He’s got debts he clocked up after his wife’s death when he went off the tracks but now he’s determined to make things right. So… we know he’s a man of good conscience and honour. Which isn’t the case for all of the participants.

If you’re like me you’ll need to suspend disbelief a little here. The set-up seems unrealistic from the get-go…. a $4m dollar prize? And are the hosts of The CashSmashers really as naïve as they seem? If so, why haven’t they crashed and burned. Before now, I mean.

The players drop like flies and there’s a sense of competitiveness but not fear or danger until one of the players ends up dead. But they’re in a house full of cameras, so it seems improbable that someone thinks they can get away with murder. And given the players are all strangers, what motive could anyone have to kill someone they’d just met?

This is a bit slow to get started as Stevenson sets the scene, describing the characters and the house, but the pace picks up as the players start to drop out.

What I enjoyed most about this read was trying to work the mystery out at the same time as Ryan. I had many questions. Was this all an elaborate set-up? Was there something more sinister at play or lurking beneath the hosts’ or players’ motivations? How on earth could some young guys monetise a YouTube channel so successfully that they could give away a $4m house and $50,000 in cash?

I was still pondering this as Stevenson brings this to a climax, and enjoyed Ryan’s unveiling of the mystery à la Hercule Poirot/Miss Marple, throwing in a couple of final twists for good measure.

Book review: Last One to Leave & Fool Me Twice by Benjamin StevensonFool Me Twice: Find Us
by Benjamin Stevenson
Published by Michael Joseph
on 28/05/2024
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1761346156
Pages: 144
four-half-stars
Goodreads

There is a small yellow backpack - half unzipped, mouth yawning to the pavement, contents strewn around it (a banana, an exercise book, a pair of scissors) - abandoned on a suburban footpath.

Ten feet away, the rubber stamp of tyres, resisting clamped brakes, mount the curb and cut across the path. The tracks come to an end at a crippled stop sign.

The street, a tree-lined suburban road dappled in late-afternoon sunlight, is calm. But anyone walking past can feel the ghosts: the prickle on the back of their necks that tells them something happened here. The story of a vehicle careening to a halt. Of a child’s backpack left in a hurry.

That intuition all comes before they take a closer look, and see there is dark, dry red on the scissor’s blade. The ghosts are screaming now; the scene’s memory turns violent. And as the passers-by raise their phones to answer the question what is your emergency? They see more red. Between the tyre-tracks and the blood. There are two words, hastily scrawled on the sidewalk. Written in blood.
FIND US.

This is such a clever story. We’re introduced to a former cop (Claudette) who officially retired but is secretly working for the FBI using social media and the internet to trace and track potential terrorists. Not even her kids know about her day job. Until they’re kidnapped and it appears that someone’s got a grudge against her. We learn about a recent case involving a young boy and Claudette assumes his vengeful parents discovered her identity and have taken her children.

This is really well paced—I guess as a novella or short story it needs to be—but the investigation doesn’t drag and there are no lulls. Claudette manages to get herself involved, helping the police to track down her children. She’s one of our narrators as well as the captors, so the mystery unfolds from several points of view.

But it’s the twist Stevenson throws in here that makes this a stellar read. Like… OMFG! I did not see that coming. I initially pondered if I would have liked this to be longer, get more of a backstory or a little more context but in retrospect it’s perfect the way it is – more information might detract from some of the impact of the shock on readers. Best to drop that bomb and run while readers are still catching their breath and agog at the cleverness of it all.

Last One to Leave & Fool Me Twice by Benjamin Stevenson are still available as audiobooks but I’m a reader not a listener so very grateful to Penguin Books that I got this two-Benjamin Stevensons-in-one book for review. I’ve adored all of his books, many garnering a rare 4.5 star rating from me. This double-header is out in Australia in late May 2024.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

four-stars

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