The Last Housewife, Ashley Winstead’s follow-up to her debut In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, fulfills the promise of that book and then some. Although I enjoyed some of the ride when I read her first book, ultimately I felt let down. That was definitely not the case with The Last Housewife, which was riveting from start to finish.
Shay Evans lives in luxury in Texas with her husband, Cal. She’s recently quit her job so she can concentrate on writing her book, but it isn’t going so well. When her favourite true crime podcaster, Jamie Knight, introduces his latest subject, it catapults Shay back eight years to her time as a student at Whitney College. The victim of the crime is Laurel Hargrove, Shay’s best friend from college. She’d been found “hanging from a tree on the edge of the De Young Performing Arts Centre.”
Shay and Jamie were childhood friends, but they’d lost touch over the years. Now Shay hears Jamie reaching out to her through his podcast because she “has dropped off the face of the planet.” Why? Because Laurel isn’t the only person from Shay’s past who has been found dead and Jamie sees a pattern.
Shay makes her return to the Hudson Valley and the Whitney campus and there is just no way to stop the floodgate of memories. Seeing Jamie for the first time in eight years brings back even more memories.
The last time I’d seen Jamie was senior year of college, when there’d only been a glimmer of the man who walked toward me now.
Laurel’s death forces Shay to confront some deeply traumatic memories. She agrees to tell her story to Jamie in an effort to find out the truth about what happened to Laurel. The secrets she’s been keeping for all these years are difficult and painful and concern the father of one of her roommates.
I thought he was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. And then immediately I felt guilty because he was Rachel’s father. But he looked nothing like her. He was tall, and so…solid. His shoulders were so broad they spanned the width of the chair. He was wearing a suit, a dark one, and he was just…powerful.
Don’s power extends beyond the physical, though. Soon, Shay and her roommates, Laurel and Clem, are spending all their time with Don, listening as he expounds on the way college is not empowering young women. He encourages them to take their power back, but at the same time – as an outsider – you can see how he is manipulating the girls. And this manipulation exerts a terrible power over Shay and her friends. Unpacking it for Jamie forces Shay to see the ways she was manipulated, but even she doesn’t realize how deep and dark Don’s power and control extends. That is until she and Jamie start to investigate Laurel’s death, an investigation which takes them to a series of underground BDSM clubs.
The Last Housewife comes with all sorts of trigger warnings for suicide, rape, physical and sexual violence etc. Sensitive readers might be shocked by the book, but I wasn’t. Considering the subject matter, you might expect the book to be more graphic, but it really isn’t gratuitous at all. It’s definitely dark and uncomfortable, but it also asks lots of intriguing questions about power dynamics, the patriarchal society we find ourselves living in, and control and giving that control up – both willingly and without realizing we are doing it. It is a page-turner that is well-written, fast-paced and smart.