Skip to main content

The Last Thing He Told Me


The Last Thing He Told Me

Laura Dave, best known for her novels EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES and HELLO, SUNSHINE, makes her first foray into domestic suspense with THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME.

When Hannah Hall receives a note from her husband that says “Protect her,” she is puzzled, to say the least. She and Owen have not been married for long, but being older and more established, their partnership has always been based on honesty. They undoubtedly have chemistry, but as two dedicated professionals parenting Bailey, Owen’s 16-year-old daughter from his first marriage, they’ve had to face their fair share of tough conversations. Still, “protecting her” has never come up before. Hannah immediately intuits that the message refers to Bailey, but what could she need protecting from? She’s a good kid in a less-than-ideal situation, but she’s the light of her father’s life --- and with Owen’s job at a software startup, the family has never struggled with anything alarming or dangerous before.

But when Owen doesn’t answer Hannah’s calls about what's going on, and then doesn’t show up for dinner that night, she knows something is wrong. It’s not long before a news broadcast provides the answer: the company where Owen works, The Shop, has been raided by the SEC and the FBI, and CEO Avett Thompson has been arrested for embezzlement and fraud. Hannah soon finds out that The Shop --- a company dedicated to building technology that allows users to take control of their online privacy --- has been struggling for months. The technology that they promised would make their investors millions has taken longer than planned to finalize, and Thompson lied to them about it, costing them entire fortunes.

Hannah is adamant that Owen must have had no idea and is in hiding for a good reason. But how could he, the company’s coder, not know that the technology was not ready? When Bailey finds a duffel bag full of cash in her locker, Hannah is certain that her husband is on the run for one reason: danger is coming to Bailey.

"With a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery at its heart, it’s easy to see why THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is instantly gripping. But Dave uses the budding relationship between Hannah and Bailey to elevate it into something far more than just a solid suspense novel."

With a US Marshal on her doorstep and the FBI tracking her every move, Hannah starts to realize that Owen --- a Princeton graduate, the perfect dad and a loving husband --- is not who he says he is. A mysterious note left for Bailey that claims “You know what matters about me” suggests to Hannah that somewhere deep in Bailey’s memories about her beloved father lies the truth about his identity.

With nowhere left to turn, and some serious stepmother-stepdaughter resentment ramping up the tension, Hannah and Bailey set off to discover the truth about Owen Michaels. In alternating chapters that chronicle their investigation into his real identity and whereabouts, and Hannah’s romance with him, the novel explores just how easy it is to reinvent yourself and what happens when the mask begins to slip.

I've been wanting to read Laura Dave's work for years, but it wasn’t until THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME was announced that I knew it was time to bump her up on my TBR list. Thanks to her contemporary fiction background, she is adept at writing difficult human interactions and emotions, and making her characters truly resonate with you. But even more impressively, she can write a perfect mystery. When you combine the two genres, you get something truly spectacular. Dave hooked me from the first chapter; her writing is immediate and commanding, and her characters feel authentic right from the start.

Hannah in particular is perfectly layered. Having been abandoned by her mother as a child, she can relate to her stepdaughter’s resentment, but she also struggles with accepting love herself, which makes Owen’s betrayal sting even more. But Hannah is no victim --- she’s quick-thinking, resourceful and nearly unflappable, and though Dave thrusts her into some unthinkable situations, her responses are gritty, real and never over the top.

With a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery at its heart, it’s easy to see why THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is instantly gripping. But Dave uses the budding relationship between Hannah and Bailey to elevate it into something far more than just a solid suspense novel. Motherhood comes in many forms, and though I've read about the stepmother figure numerous times, I’ve never seen one quite as fleshed out and explored as it is here. Hannah understands Bailey in ways that her husband doesn’t, and though she tries hard, she also acknowledges and respects Bailey’s resentment. At the same time, the 16-year-old --- and all her adolescent eye rolls, mood swings and sarcastic comebacks --- is no stereotype. Even when she’s at her bratty, hormonal, teenage worst, Dave approaches her with respect and care.

Although the novel is about Owen, it is Hannah and Bailey who take the lead. The mystery is always at the forefront, but there are so many elements simmering in the background that you’ll be hard-pressed to find one boring or forgettable page.

With all the taut pacing of writers like Carola Lovering and Julie Clark, and the astute emotional awareness of Sally Hepworth and J. Courtney Sullivan, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is a thoroughly engaging, heart-pounding novel perfect for those who are desperate for their next “can’t put it down” read.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 7, 2021

The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave