I’m thrilled to share with you an extract from Lucy Clarke’s latest book, Last Seen, today followed by my review!
In a small seaside community, there’s always somebody watching…
Twisty, pacy, and superbly plotted, Last Seen is the perfect psychological page-turner for fans of Clare Mackintosh and Sabine Durrant.
Seven years ago, two boys went missing at sea – and only one was brought to shore. The Sandbank, a remote stretch of coast dotted with beach huts, was scarred forever.
Sarah’s son survived, but on the anniversary of the accident, he disappears without trace. As new secrets begin to surface, The Sandbank hums with tension and unanswered questions. Sarah’s search grows more desperate and she starts to mistrust everyone she knows – and she’s right to.
Someone saw everything on that fateful day seven years ago. And they’ll do anything to keep the truth buried.
Published 29th June 2017 by Harpercollins UK
DAY ONE, 6.15 A.M.
In the distance I can hear the light wash of waves folding on to shore. I lie still, eyes closed, but I can sense the dawn light filtering into the beach hut, slipping beneath the blinds ready to pull me into the new day. But I’m not ready. An uneasy feeling slides through my stomach.
I reach out to find Nick’s side of the bed empty, the sheet cool. He’s in Bristol, I remember. He has his pitch this morning. He left last night with a slice of birthday cake pressed into his hand. At that point Jacob was still smiling about the presents he’d been given for his seventeenth birthday. Nick has no idea what happened later.
A low flutter of panic beats in my chest: Will Jacob tell him?
I push myself upright in bed, my thoughts snapping and firing now. I can still feel the vibrations of Jacob’s footsteps storming across the beach hut, then the gust of air as the door slammed behind him, his birthday cards gliding to the ground like falling birds. I’d picked them up, carefully replacing each of them, until I reached the last – a homemade card with a photo glued to the front. I’d gripped its edges, imagining the satisfying tear of paper beneath my fingertips. I had made myself return it to the shelf, rearranging the cards so it was placed at the back.
I listen for the sound of Jacob’s breathing, waiting to catch the light hum of a snore – but all I can hear are the waves at the door. I straighten, fully alert now. Did I hear him come in last night? It’s impossible to sneak into the beach hut quietly. The door has to be yanked open where the wooden frame has swollen with rain; the sofa bed has to be skirted around in the dark; the wooden ladder to the mezzanine, where Jacob sleeps, creaks as it is climbed; and then there’s the slide and shuffle of his knees when he crawls to the mattress in the eaves.
Pulling back the covers, I clamber from the bed. In the dim haze I scan the tidy square of the beach hut for clues of my son: there are no trainers kicked off by the door; no jumper tossed on the sofa; no empty glasses or plates left on the kitchen counter, nor dusting of crumbs. The hut is immaculate, neat, just as I left it.
I ignore the faint pulse of pain in my head as I cross the beach hut in three steps, climbing the base of the ladder. It’s dark in the mezzanine – I’d pulled the blind over the porthole window and made Jacob’s bed before going to sleep myself. Usually the distinctive fug of a teenage boy lingers
up here, but this morning the heaped body of my son is absent, the duvet smooth.
I squeeze my eyes shut and swear under my breath. What did I expect?
I don’t know why I let it happen, not on his birthday. I shouldn’t have risen to his challenge. I went too far. We both did. Diffuse, not antagonise, Nick is fond of telling me. (Thank you, Nick. I’d never have thought of that myself.)
When Jacob was little, Nick would always ask my opinion on what Jacob needed, how best to dress a cut on his knee, or whether he could do with a nap, or what he might prefer to eat. But, in the last few years, my confidence in knowing what my son needs has slipped away. In his company, I often find myself at an utter loss as to what to say – asking too many questions, or not the right ones. On the odd occasion that Jacob does confide in me, I feel like a desert-walker who has come across a freshwater lake, thirsting for closeness.
Last night, as Jacob swung round to face me, I couldn’t think what to say, what to do. Maybe it was because seventeen is like a line in the sand; he’d just stepped over it into adulthood – but I wasn’t ready. Maybe that’s why I said the things I did, trying to pull him back to me.
I descend the ladder now, feeling the full weight of my headache kicking in. I’m sure Jacob will have stayed out with his friends – he’ll probably roll in at mid-morning, a hangover worsening his mood.
Yet still, I feel the tentacles of panic reaching, feeling their way through my chest.
Coffee. That’s what I need. I pump water into the kettle, then light the hob, listening to the rush of gas. As I wait for the water to boil, I have a strange, uncomfortable sensation.
That this is going to be my life one day: just me, alone, making coffee for one. It makes sweat prickle underarm, dread loosening my insides.
I reach out and snap on the battery-powered radio. A song blares into the hut – Jacob and I are always having radio wars, he switching it from Radio 4 to a station he likes, knowing I’ve still not learnt how to use the Memory button, so I must manually retune it to find my station again. But this morning, I like the noise and the thrash of guitars. I’ll leave it on. That way, when he comes back it’ll be playing.
Seriously, do not start this book unless you can spare the next few hours. I started Last Seen one afternoon and didn’t stop until I’d turned the last page. I’m not generally the quickest of readers, but at little under four hours later I’d sped my way through the 430 odd pages of this addictive and suspenseful book. Lucy Clarke’s writing is so readable, page after page turned effortlessly and I was almost surprised when I realised I’d almost got to the end.
The book’s told in alternating chapters from best friends Sarah and Isla, hinting at secrets, betrayal and fracturing relationships right from the very start. I wasn’t sure who I should trust, and this suspense is kept up right to the very end, when several twists and turns are revealed one after the other.
Sarah is an interesting character. At first appearances she’s the frantic parent of a missing teenager. Bewildered and frustrated at the declining relationship before her son’s disappearance, she’s appears naive and a little bit fragile. But scratch the surfaces and some chilling traits begin to show themselves. Isla on the other hand remains more of an enigma for much of the book, although she obviously holds a grudge against Sarah, the reader has no idea why until later in the book.
I did guess some of the twists in Last Seen, but that’s not to say it was any the less enjoyable. I found it gripping, absorbing and unputdownable, and while I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, thought the atmosphere of dysfunctional relationships, manipulation, secrets and resentment was delivered very well and kept my interest piqued until the very last page. This would make the perfect holiday read, and if you enjoy a thriller then make sure Last Seen is in your suitcase this summer!