I received a copy of this novel via the publisher, in return for an honest review
The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman
Winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel
‘A gripping story about grief and redemption’ Sunday Mirror
Carla and Kevin Reid are celebrating their wedding anniversary with their son Jack. The family together, some good food, a perfect night.
On a murderous collision course with this joyous yet fragile gathering, is Ben Toroa, an unexpected and unwanted visitor.
As Carla struggles to come to terms with the aftermath of the appalling events of the night, and Ben faces the consequences in prison, their stories will be for ever entwined.
The novel opens right in the very ‘Beginnings’, as it’s titled. In 1989 when a young Carla Reid learns of her pregnancy. She is elated at the news and the introduction ends with the simplistic but heartfelt news of, “I’m going to be a mother!”.
Two years later in the same town, another woman learns that she is pregnant. Miriama gives birth to a son, Benjamin Joel. But baby Benjamin, is destined to a life of exposure to drugs, parties and domestic violence. A childhood no one would ask for……..
Carla (16 years later) is celebrating her 27th wedding anniversary to husband Kevin. The live on an isolated diary farm and live a wholesome life. With Carla referencing the Sunday sermon ‘Their son has been lent to then; a daughter was for keeps’. This momentarily brings tears to her eyes, as she recalls the daughter Gabby, that she lost. Watching her son grow from a boy to a young man, has become the start of a new beginning for the family.
That is until an intruder comes knocking on their door……
Carla awakens the morning after, the night of the attack. She has been sexually assaulted, physically beaten and dreads the discovery of what has happened to her husband and son. When farm hand dairy hands Rangi and Rebecca arrive at the house. They are unaware, they are walking into a crime scene, of a brutal murder.
Ben and ZZ aka Tate, make off from the intrusion with little money, guilt or remorse. They think they are hardened members of the DOA’s. They casually talk of drugs and the violence they so easily meted out.
But when Ben returns home to his siblings Anika, Lily, Brooke and Cody. We see a different side of Ben. A young man forced to grow up way before his time and exposed to the regular beatings/violence of his mother’s on/off lovers. He takes care of his toddler sister Lily, bathing her after she soiled herself. His brother Cody has learning difficulties due to being born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Ben becomes their shield against the violent and chaotic household; meaning he faces the greatest wrath of his mother’s various ‘lovers’.
Carla attends the funeral of her son. Her husband still lying in a medically induced coma, due to the severity of his injuries. She is faced with loneliness, isolation and the psychological impact of the night’s attack.
When Kevin is finally discharged, it becomes clear he is no longer the man he once was. He now remains severely disabled from the attack and relies upon Carla to maintain his care needs. Leaving an emotional and distant Carla, to face up to the aftermath of the attack alone. When two suspects are arrested, and DNA confirms their involvement. Carla hopes she may get the closure she so desperately longs for.
Ben pleads guilty to the attack. He is transferred to a transit prison and then after sentencing to one of the toughest maximum-security jails.
But for Ben the journey of this novel, does not end there. Before the novel ends, Ben will face up to not only the horrors he has inflicted upon the Reid family. But also, the repercussions of his absence, on his mother and siblings.
Local journalist Mike Adams, wants to write a feature on Ben’s crimes. But after meeting with Ben’s mother and witnessing the abject poverty and chaos of the household; staring into his mother’s apathetic eyes. He decides such a story would serve no purpose to the local community.
“Poverty swallows everything. God, culture, community, hope”
When Ben’s first parole hearing comes up. This offers both Carla and Ben the chance at ‘restorative justice’. A chance for them both to find a way to come to terms with the aftermath of that fateful night’s attack. What follows, is for the individual reader to explore.
It is an incredible story of redemption, understanding and healing! Carla is written so well, she reads like a real person. A survivor’s story, in autobiography format. Carla is an amazing woman of boundless strength and for whom, I have great admiration.
This is simply an outstanding novel and I look forward to reading more by the author.