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Last Words


Last Words

Michael Koryta continues to expand his subtle, dark horizons with each new release. His latest novel, LAST WORDS, introduces a memorable protagonist who finds himself in a deceptively quiet setting that harbors secrets stretching a decade or more into the past. The result is one of Koryta’s most complex and possibly best books to date.

Markus Novak is an investigator for a Florida-based organization named Innocence, Inc., a pro-bono legal defense group that attempts to reopen and resolve the cases of potentially wrongfully convicted defendants in capital punishment cases. Novak’s job --- and all the rest of him --- is on the line as LAST WORDS opens. It is a heart-rending irony that Novak’s wife, Lauren, an attorney with Innocence, Inc., was herself murdered by an unknown perpetrator while on an assignment. In an attempt to do some investigating into her death on his own, Novak has taken a couple of legal shortcuts that have gotten him in trouble with the organization’s board of directors.

" of Koryta’s most complex and possibly best books to date.... LAST WORDS will serve as the perfect thriller companion for this summer’s last gasp."

Novak’s boss and friend, in an effort to take some of the heat off Novak while his job hangs in the balance, sends him to Indiana to investigate a case that Innocence, Inc. will almost certainly not undertake. It is perhaps the ultimate in busy work. The victim died a decade ago and was a teenage girl who disappeared into a large and well-known cave in the area while hiking with her boyfriend. Days later, a local character named Ridley Barnes emerged from the cave, carrying her dead body. Although Barnes was never charged with her murder, there are many in the area who are convinced that he was responsible for her death. It is Barnes who has requested that Innocence, Inc. investigate the case, even though it is far beyond their mission statement.

Novak, becoming aware that the matter is a time waster designed to remove him from Florida until things cool down, is set to return home when he is attacked and dumped into the cave himself. Rescued at the last moment, he decides that he is not leaving until he finds out who is responsible. His investigation is anything but welcomed by most of the townspeople and local law enforcement, even as he pulls this thread and that thread to identify his attackers. As one might expect, tracking their identities uncovers clues as to who murdered an innocent and popular young woman some 10 years previously. Novak follows some vague and tenuous leads, but while there is a genuine mystery here, Koryta educates the reader on a topic or two.

In the case of LAST WORDS, we learn all we ever wanted to know about caving and hypnosis. I won’t give anything away, but the parts of the book dealing with cave exploration made my throat close up. There is a legitimate question here as to whether Koryta is a caver or availed himself of research and advice on the subject; if the latter, he is an even better writer than we ever imagined. If some of the passages don’t give you nightmares about being stuck in dark, narrow places, then you skipped some important pages. As noted, however, there is a mystery here as well, and there are as many twists and turns in the plot as there are in the cave, which provides the stunning backdrop to the events that take place.

Novak is a sympathetic, rough-edged protagonist, damaged but nonetheless likable. We will see more of him --- the 10-page excerpt from ECHOES, Koryta’s next novel, which is included in the book, assures us of that --- and perhaps at that point the mystery of Lauren’s murder will be resolved. In the meantime, though, LAST WORDS will serve as the perfect thriller companion for this summer’s last gasp.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 21, 2015

Last Words
by Michael Koryta

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316122688
  • ISBN-13: 9780316122689