The Last Night

Written by Cesca Major
Review by Edward James

In August 1952 a flash flood swept away the tourist village of Lynmouth in north Devon. All the bodies which were recovered after the disaster were identified and claimed by their families except for one, a woman in her early twenties. Her grave is still marked ‘unknown’. This unknown woman inspired this story.

Cesca Major is drawn to small communities on the brink of catastrophe: we know the outcome, they don’t! Her previous book, The Silent Hours, is about Oradour, the village in France destroyed by the SS in 1944. She delights in lingering descriptions of people and landscapes, which creates a sense of place and foreboding. However, I must confess that at times I became impatient to get on with the story.

The story is told in two time streams, one in Lynmouth in 1952 and the other largely in an antique shop in Brighton in 2016, where a furniture restorer finds a secret drawer in a writing-desk she is renovating. This sets her on the trail to resolving the mystery, which is essentially a love story. The author’s vivid description of the flood shows that she can also handle violence.