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The Only One Left


The Only One Left

I recently came across a fabulous interview that Grady Hendrix conducted with Riley Sager. They talked about an author being labeled as a writer of thrillers as opposed to horror. This is a debate that I hope all readers of Sager’s latest novel, THE ONLY ONE LEFT, will have as this terrific story hits you with psychological thrills and gothic horror simultaneously.

Early on, we are made privy to a typewritten remembrance that is clearly based on the infamous Hope family murders. Taking place in 1929 and purposely looking a lot like the very real Lizzie Borden case, a 17-year-old girl was the only survivor during a night that found her parents and sister brutally slayed in their creepy mansion (known as Hope’s End) that literally hung over the Maine coast. Lenora Hope was not convicted of any crime due to lack of evidence, but the court of public opinion condemned her and her home to a life where both will be neglected and ostracized until they no longer exist.

"THE ONLY ONE yet another classic from Riley Sager and will have his countless fans reeling and squealing in delight with each passing chapter."

The current setting of the novel is the early 1980s. Kit McDeere, a home health aide, does not want the assignment of caring for Lenora, who is now an invalid, but her boss doesn’t give her a choice. Kit has no leverage in the matter as she narrowly avoided prosecution herself when her previous client died due to her negligence when she left out an entire bottle of pain medication.

Kit reluctantly goes to Hope’s End and finds the mansion in serious disrepair; in fact, it almost appears to be tilting towards the Atlantic Ocean. Her only consolation is that Lenora cannot speak and is only able to communicate by knocking her left hand for “yes” or “no.” Kit learns that Mary, the prior caregiver, disappeared in the middle of the night and left all of her things behind. Kit now must stay in that same bedroom, which remains filled with Mary’s belongings.

Mary obtained a typewriter for Lenora, which is still being used and is in Lenora’s room. It is here where Lenora types out her first of many messages to Kit: my body is dead but my mind is alive. It is not long before Kit learns that Lenora was typing out her entire story from that horrifying night in 1929 to Mary and that the revelations found within may have played a role in Mary’s departure.

Lenora makes the same deal with Kit --- she will tell her the truth about that night through her typed confession in long-story form. This does not sit well with the rest of the staff of Hope’s End, two of whom have been employed there since the time of the murders. Liz becomes obsessed with Lenora’s case and is intrigued by the varied possible suspects. Sager knows how to throw the plot twists around, and he is in fine form here. He also excels at ramping up the storytelling like he is building a foundation.

It is hard to continue discussing this great work without giving away things that should be left as unopened surprises for the reader. Let me just stay that more murders, plot twists and red herrings will enter the fray before the explosive ending and final reveal. THE ONLY ONE LEFT, a title that clearly speaks to Lenora Hope, is yet another classic from Riley Sager and will have his countless fans reeling and squealing in delight with each passing chapter.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 23, 2023

The Only One Left
by Riley Sager