“The panic he felt then was unlike any he’d known before. A sensation of being trapped in someplace small, and abandoned in someplace endless, all at once.” These are the thoughts contemplated by the protagonist in Michael Koryta's Last Words as he finds himself stranded in an underground cave.
If reading something can make you claustrophobic, this might not be the book for you.
Set primarily in Indiana, this story involves Markus, a broken man trying to piece his life back together; Ridley, a small town eccentric and pariah; a ten year old unsolved murder case; and an extensive underground cave that is as much a character in the book as the actual people.
If Koryta isn’t a caver himself, his research on the subject is expansive. Between the detailed description of equipment needed for such endeavors and his scenes involving actual caving, he makes you feel as though you’re there. When he speaks of getting head and shoulders stuck in the crawl space of a cave, it was all I could do not to walk outside and stand in a wide-open space.
Another subject he broaches with temerity is hypnosis. Viewed by many with skepticism, he approaches it both mystically as well as forensically. Julianne, the town ‘seer’, at different times in the book puts both Ridley and Markus into ‘trance’ to help them recall respective times in the cave that neither can consciously remember. It is easy to suspend reality in the story to believe the hypnosis works but Koryta also examines the lost art of using it in criminal investigations with the subtle suggestion that maybe it should be used again.
Though about fifty pages too long for my taste, the story was compelling. Kortya effectively leaves the reader wondering who are the good guys and who are the bad guys until the denouement.
He’s also convinced me, through his very realistic depictions of caving, that it is not something I am ever interested in trying!
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Elizabeth's rating: 3 stars