I’m a diehard Diane Chamberlain fan, and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET might have displaced NECESSARY LIES as my favorite of her novels.
From page one, the tension in this dual timeline story is that of a psychological thriller. Straddling 1965 and 2010, the creepy tone of the primary setting—a secluded, densely-wooded lot in a well-off North Carolina town—adds to an undefined sense of evil lurking in the past and the present. Powerful stuff when talking about race and the history of the South.
Architect Kayla Carter is ambivalent about moving into the dream house she co-designed with her husband—also the place where he died in a bizarre accident. When a strange woman appears in her office and delivers a threat, Kayla’s even more unsettled. But she and her young daughter have been living with Kayla’s father, and he’s downsizing. They have no choice but to move into the only finished house in the new development of Shadow Ridge Estates.
The sound of building crews provides comfort during the day, but Kayla’s windows have no blinds. Anyone could spy on them at night. The property is overgrown and eerie with a strange, circular clearing in the middle. Ghost stories claim it’s haunted.
After introducing herself to her neighbors—in an old, nearby house—Kayla connects with the Hockleys, who seem to have strong ties to her land. The homeowner is dying, and his sister, Ellie, has returned from California to care for him and their elderly mother. In the mid-sixties, Ellie became the only southern white student volunteering to register local Black voters. The scandal that followed threatened her life and ripped her family apart. When she left town before graduating from college, she vowed never to return. And now she’s back.
Ellie’s friendly until she figures out the identity of Kayla’s dad. But why? What decades-old tragedy connects the two women, and what secrets does the land hold? Why is someone vandalizing Kayla’s beautiful house, and does Ellie know the answers?
The disturbing truth, which is gradually revealed as part love story, part mystery, part women’s fiction, part family drama, part historical fiction, is a must-read for book clubs. I loved every page, even when I was sobbing.