The Last Minute by Eleanor Updale
The Last Minute traces the 59 seconds before an explosion rips through Heathwick High Street. It's quite a different read.
|The Last Minute by Eleanor Updale|
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Through fifty-nine chapters, the details of each second build up a rich picture of what was happening on the High Street that morning. A cast of characters, community activity and life stories are developed. On this morning, there are emergency gasworks and a traffic jam that are creating havoc for dog walkers, cheating politicians, coffee drinkers, party planners and new drivers. There’s also a funeral about to take place and a Year 8 school trip that’s running a tad late.
There are also people observing one another on the street and it is through their thoughts, some authorial clues and perhaps some of your own guesses that the reader starts to really develop their own bit of cluedo detective work. The novel is quite good at exploring how we make assumptions and pass judgements about other people’s actions and lives – many of them incorrect and even rude.
The Last Minute is a pageturning mystery. Of course, you want to know what caused the explosion and who did and didn’t die in it. However, not much can happen in just one second and as the high street starts to fill up, some detail repeats itself across the chapters: some of this is needed to remind you of what is happening but some of it is superfluous. Personally, I found it a bit drawn out and would have preferred it to be a bit shorter.
However, there is excellent supporting material for the fifty-nine chapters: an epilogue and prologue, before and after maps of the high street, some lists of the dead, and media footage. A website with other materials is also available. Altogether, this could make for a great bit of speculating and investigative work for readers who are so inclined. I can imagine a class having great fun with it.
Because of all the interlinked characters and activities that make up the busy plot, The Last Minute reminded me a bit of Matt Dickinson’s Mortal Chaos which explores events that occur as a result of the butterfly effect (the idea that a little change can set off other changes). However, there is no graphic gore in The Last Minute and I think younger readers will enjoy it too.
Despite the seriousness of the topic (a deadly explosion), The Last Minute is a very light read and places more emphasis on issues that might arise in investigative detective and reporting work. There are quite a few funny bits in it too: think farts, dog poo and ripping trousers.
Publication details: January 2013, David Fickling Books, Oxford, hardbackThis copy: received for review consideration from the publisher