Published by Viper Books
Publication date – 18 March 2021
Source – review copy
This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.
All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.
You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. But you’re wrong. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…
Ted lives in the last house on Needless Street. It’s windows are boarded up so he can no longer look out onto the forest that backs his garden. Inside the triple locked door Ted keeps his cat Olivia and his daughter Lauren safe from the outside world. But he can’t help thinking about Little Girl with Popsicle, a girl who went missing from the lake a few miles from Ted’s house. Dee, the girl’s sister, has never stopped thinking about Lulu. She’s honed in on Ted and is determined to find out what became of her sister. Truth will out, or will it?
I was immediately drawn into the story, intrigued by Ted with his idiosyncrasies and strange way of living. Depending on how you view him, he can come across as creepy, sinister or benign. Olivia, the cat, has her own chapters and it is a little startling at first to view the world from the vantage point of a cat. Lauren appears in her own narrated chapters later in the book. Each character has their own distinctive voice, each one giving a slightly different viewpoint of the story.
The story is narrated by Ted, Oliva, Dee and Lauren with some characters in third person and some in first person, a technical that allows a rounded tale, told from limited but different viewpoints. There are a limited number of characters who are given names. Those that Ted interacts with are christened with Ted names such as bug man his therapist and Chihuahua lady, one of his neighbours. All of this means there is a closed, almost claustrophobic feel so the reader feels as closed up as Ted’s house with it’s boarded windows and triple lock.
I had figured out what was happening and what had happened about half way through the story but this didn’t spoil the story, in fact it made me somewhat more invested as I raced to see how it would all manifest.
This is a great example of the skill of showing and not telling. The clues are all there, slowly introduced by fact or omission, even the street name takes on a different tone when the final page is turned. The reader has to hunt them out, reflect on what they’ve already read to find out where the story is going to take us. There is also a skill to taking difficult and horrific situations and diffuse care and feeling into the writing, so that the issues raised aren’t dealt with gratuitously. Catriona Ward manages to carry out this balance with aplomb. If you usually ignore the afterword in books, make this one your exception (though not until after you’ve finished the book as there is a spoiler in there).
There is so much going on in this book that it’s easy to slip up and inadvertently spoil the story for others which makes it especially hard to review. Sometimes you just want to say read it, and then talk to me about it, and leave your review at that.
The Last House on Needless Street has been called a horror novel or a gothic thriller. I didn’t find it horrifying or terrifying, though it is thrilling to read. To me it is a tightly woven tale, full of tension and intrigue, with the truth just dangled tantalisingly out of reach.
It sounds trite but this is story-telling at it’s finest. There isn’t a page where the story lags. Deftly written, intricate, absorbing, The Last House on Needless Street draws the reader into it’s web. It’s futile to resist it.
About the Author
Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the US, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. Her debut Rawblood won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, and was a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Little Eve won the Shirley Jackson Award, was a Guardian best book of 2018 and won the Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. She lives in London and Devon.