The Last Murder at the End of the World: A Novel

Image of The Last Murder at the End of the World: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 21, 2024
Sourcebooks Landmark
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“Like Turton’s earlier novel, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, this one is unforgettable and resonant but requires both patience and commitment.”

“In four days we’re either going to change the world or die trying.” That’s scientist Niema Mandripilias, addressing the computer that interacts directly with her thoughts, as it does on much of the fogged-in island that seems to hold the last remnants of the world’s population. Does Niema see “the island” now as her own world? Is she entitled to make its life-and-death decisions?

Stuart Turton’s ticking-clock thriller provides a post-apocalyptic focus of a few hundred people, and of those, a handful of leaders. Then he pushes those leaders toward revelation of crime, especially of murder but perhaps even worse. (What could be worse? After the rest of the planet’s been poisoned, points of view shift, right?) Within those four days—92 hours—not only must the crime or crimes be solved, but the balance of organic life and artificial intelligence will shift drastically. Chapter by suspenseful chapter, Turton twists his island world’s sense of truth and potential.

Niema’s mission has been to morph people into beings who smile tenderly at each other and live in peace. If their free will and their scientific advances have to vanish in the process, she feels that’s a fair trade: “I don’t miss the violence that was everywhere. I don’t miss the poverty, or the anger, or being afraid of every hate-peddling psychopath who might win an election.” (Sound familiar?)

Yet ironically, it’s Niema who’s willing to give up the secrecy that the scientists on the island have held for decades in order to give the “villagers” a chance at choosing their own fate. When she declares her intention, she sets in motion multiple death threats to herself. Doing her best to ignore that, and the ticking clock that threatens to swamp “her” island in death for all, she attempts to use her lab skills and manipulation to maneuver humanity away from completing the apocalypse.

Turton’s plot suggests that eating from the tree of knowledge may always mean disaster. There’s also a hint of the pain that Frankenstein’s monster endures. Salvation must come from Emory, neither a scientist nor a political manipulator, but someone hunting for other strands of trust. She says aloud the word “motive,” as in “motive for murder,” and tries to interrupt the consequences underway. Meanwhile the extremely sentient computer that talks with each character has its own notions of what’s best for this remnant’s survival.

By the midpoint of this sci fi/murder novel, with its multiple moral compasses, there are strong hints of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as most colonial efforts to straighten out native people, plus an echo of Cixin Liu’s space invaders trilogy and the family conflicts of classic Shakespearean dramas. It says a lot for Turton’s narrative skills that the pressure of plot and threat can propel a reader through these twists. But there are few heroes in this cosmos, and plenty of poor choices available around innocence and painful knowledge.

Like Turton’s earlier novel, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, this one is unforgettable and resonant but requires both patience and commitment (or an obsession with unraveling the murder) to read all the way through to the last motives and actions. Pick it up as an investigation of our own apocalypse in the making, but don’t expect any classic genre satisfactions—like his artificial intelligence pushing this island world along, the author’s pushing a particular solution to our world conflict. It’s your choice, as all-powerful reader, whether to buy in.