Written by Louise Voss — Back in the 1990s, Cohen was one of the biggest bands on the planet, giving the likes of U2 and Radiohead a run for their money. Fronting the band was Merry Heather, whose spiky black hair and searing vocals caught the public’s imagination and brought her fame and fortune – neither of which she particularly wanted.
Along with the adulation came the stalking and danger, culminating in an event which sent Merry out of the spotlight and into anonymity. These days, Meredith Vincent lives in an isolated little cottage in the grounds of posh stately home Minstead House, making ends meet by running the gift shop there. She has a mousy bob, wears little makeup and is happy to blend into the background. Until, suddenly, the past takes centre stage once more…
Strange, mildly insignificant things have been happening to Meredith for months now. Like someone beheading all the dahlias in her garden, or breaking into the gift shop and causing damage. Then something pretty significant happens – Meredith’s boss is killed and she’s implicated. That carefully crafted in-the-shadows existence is about to vanish in a glare of flashbulbs. Someone out there wants to do harm to Meredith, and to those she loves. But who? And why?
As the narrative ricochets between now and the events that led to Meredith vanishing in such dramatic fashion all those years ago, Louise Voss drip feeds us tasty, tantalising little morsels of information. We find out about young Meredith, and how a spur-of-the-moment decision to go and join the women protesters at Greenham Common changed her life for good. One minute she’s in Salisbury studying for A levels, the next she is living in a squat in London with a bunch of guys who eventually become Cohen and her lover, Samantha.
The story is told from a variety of viewpoints, including Meredith; her twin brother Pete; DC Gemma McMeekin, who is one of the team of police officers called to Minstead House and who has a pivotal role to play here; and the mysterious Graeme, visiting the woman he loves in prison and making plans for their future together. In the capable hands of Louise Voss, each of them lives and breathes, leaping off the page and into the imagination.
In partnership with Mark Edwards and also in her own right (read our review of The Old You here), Voss has shown herself to be an accomplished creator of the engaging psychological thriller – and The Last Stage is no exception. She also succeeds in bringing the 1980s and 90s, and Greenham Common in particular, to life.
Meredith is a great central character, a woman of huge contradictions and myriad secrets. She’s someone who had it all but paid the price. While many might envy her former rock star lifestyle, the reality of a life in the spotlight is tainted and fraught with danger. This book exudes menace – Meredith isn’t sure who is after her or what they want and neither are we. It’s really hard to keep track of your place on the page when you’re continually looking over your shoulder.
That sense of unease is a sign of a great thriller, and Voss piles on the suspense until it’s almost too much to bear. Meantime, we are getting to know Meredith and her brother Pete – a pair of mismatched twins who need to love and trust each other if they’re to get out of this sorry mess alive. This is a cracking good read.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars