Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Nightfire | Macmillan Audio (September 28, 2021)
Length: 352 pages | 12 hrs
Author Information: Twitter
Narrator (Audiobook): Christopher Ragland
The Last House on Needless Street was an interesting read. Definitely odd, but in a good way. While I still have mixed feelings about it, I think that has a lot more to do with my own expectations for the story and less to do with the technical aspects of the book. In fact, everything about this novel will hinge upon “expectations,” which is why I suspect I’m in a small minority and that most readers will actually revel in getting their minds blown.
To keep the surprise a secret, I’m just going to give a brief overview of the book’s characters in lieu of my usual summary of the premise for this review, because I truly believe the less you know going into it, the better. In Washington, perched on the edge of a forest, lies the titular house located on a dead-end street, where Ted Bannerman has lived for his entire life. He has two other housemates, the first being a teenage girl named Lauren whom Ted refers to his daughter, but she isn’t allowed to go outside or interact with anyone. The second housemate is actually a cat, Olivia, whose life revolves around napping, the Bible, and being fiercely loyal to Ted.
Then there’s the new neighbor, Dee, who recently moved into the place next door—which, of course, was all part of her plan. Years ago, her sister went missing, and Ted was a person of interest in the case. Although nothing ever came of it, Dee is convinced Ted had something to do with her sister’s disappearance and is determined to get close enough to him so she can prove it.
What I loved about this book was the mystery, but it’s also not the kind of mystery you think. Many reviewers have pointed out the futility of trying to guess what’s going on, because you’ll probably end up way off base. I do think the author has done a great job leading the reader down a garden path, using misleading signals and other subtle types of deception. I have to say this aspect was done extremely well.
I also enjoyed the handling of the characters, whose POVs were unique in their own individual ways. It’s clear from the start, for instance, that there’s something “off” about Ted. His mind reveals a confused and somewhat worrying personality. He has frequent memory lapses, exhibits paranoid behavior, is quite possibly struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. His relationships with his companions are even more puzzling, especially when it comes to Lauren, an angry teenager. Ted’s interactions with her raise more questions than answers, but it’s clear he’s gradually losing control of the situation. Meanwhile, we also have Olivia, whose voice was simply adorable and delightful, though in keeping with the theme of the others, there’s a touch of darkness there as well. This little black cat is completely devoted to protecting Ted, which she believes is her calling.
Through these strange perspectives, the author keeps readers off-balance, until layer by layer, the truths are revealed. It’s a twist but also not a twist, if that makes sense (probably not). But once you read this book and get to the end, it’ll all come together (or not really—but most of it).
Here’s where my experience differed from the vast majority of positive reviews, and I really think it had a lot to do with catching on to what was happening way too early, which robbed the ending of its impact. Then there was my mood at the time. Sure, The Last House on Needless Street can be considered a horror novel, but it wasn’t what I had in mind or what I’d wanted when I picked it up, despite the story oozing with atmosphere. And finally, I think I just took too long to read it. Real life getting in the way meant I had to set this book aside frequently, and the prolonged time also meant I had a lot longer to mull over the story, making connections and spotting inconsistencies. Don’t get me wrong, I liked what the book was trying to do and what it achieved, and I found the overall concept to be one-of-a-kind and clever, but ultimately, my reaction was something closer to a “that’s it?” due to the reasons listed above.
Nevertheless, I believe The Last House on Needless Street is worth reading. I’m aware that my own experiences were something of an outlier due to specific circumstances, but most readers will probably enjoy the journey of having their expectations altered and shattered. The afterword is also fascinating. If you’re looking for a unique read, definitely check it out.