The Last Person in the World by Matthew Tree

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The Last Person in the World by Matthew Tree

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Matthew Tree has a talent for making us look at troubling social problems in a slightly different way. This time, it's child abuse and you'll be left wishing that the real stories had worked out this way.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 241 Date: July 2023
Publisher: Independently published
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-8398211672

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Our narrator was a scholarship day boy at the London-based public school where he met Ralph Finns. It was an unusual relationship as Ralph was a boarder and had money to throw around on a Rolex watch, vintage wines and a state-of-the-art sound system. Both were probably quite surprised when they became almost friends and certainly more than acquaintances. Finns had no intention of going on to University, unlike our storyteller who had a place at Wolverton College in Wellingford, the UK's third most prestigious university. Before going up, he took up a loose invitation to visit Ralph at his home, Clouds Manor in West Dorset.

It's an unusual setup, not least because of the female butler, Sarah, with whom Ralph has a jokey, friendly relationship, although he's keen to say that it's nothing more. The boys are in their late teens - no longer children but not yet the men they will become. And then circumstances meant that they drifted apart, for the time being.

We're back in the late seventies when the Yorkshire Ripper was still at large and mobile phones were the size of a loaf of bread. There's a proliferation of armed left-wing organisations across Europe: in the UK, it's The Vanguard. Our narrator joined the Trotskyist Real Workers Party but had increasingly decided that it wasn't achieving very much. Now he's about to find he's involved - like it or not - with The Vanguard and MI5. University hadn't appealed as much as he thought it would. What does appeal is a pub called The Bird in Hand, or - more accurately - Beth, who's one of the bar staff.

Matthew Tree is an author I keep returning to. He creates characters who ring true. Our nameless narrator says of himself that he lacks gumption, acumen, resolve, initiative and drive. He's amorphous, generally at the mercy of events rather than shaping them but - somehow - I wanted everything to work out for him. Beth, on the other hand, is a feisty, spirited woman, prepared to fight for who and what she wants. I'd no need to hope that things would work out for her - she'd make them. There's quite a cast of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep track of who was who.

Characters need a story and one of Tree's great skills is his ability to put his finger on the pulse of a troubling social problem and get you to look at it in a slightly different way, as he did in Just Looking with the subject of immigration. In The Last Person in the World we get a horrifying look at child abuse. I wept for the eight-year-old twins on their birthday: there are some images which you can never unsee. You'll be able to put alternative names to many of the celebrities who find themselves in The Vanguard's sights. I could only wish that this was what had happened, but real events played out rather differently.

It's a pacy story and I finished it far too quickly. I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

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