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The Last Monument by Michael C Grumley

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed his Breakthrough series, which is imaginative, bold and well-written, I was so excited to see another Grumley book published. I bought it straight away and read it swiftly. This time, Grumley steps away from his almost other-worldly action series and gives the readers what is an unashamedly Indiana Jones type mystery involving an air-traffic inspector, Joe Rickards, with a sad secret that he carries, and a young female academic, an anthropologist, who also bears a heavy burden.

These two are thrown together when the anthropologist’s elderly great-uncle dies in a plane crash. Terrified of flying and an octogenarian, he nonetheless boarded a small aircraft in terrible weather with an old pilot friend. Where was he going? And what drove him to take such a terrible risk? When it’s discovered the great-uncle is carrying a letter sent to him sixty years earlier but which has only just been delivered and that it was sent by his brother who was thought dead after the war (something great-uncle never believed), a train of events is set in motion. Joe is roped into helping the great-niece learn the truth of not just what the letter meant, but what mystery lies at its heart. It’s a journey that will take both of them not only into the depths of South America, but into the deadly sights of others who have been searching for the answer to the mystery contained in the letter ever since the end of the war and will do whatever it takes to ensure only they discover the truth.

Grumley knows how to write good, page-turning novels and grip the reader. This one is no different except, for some reason, the story didn’t quite grab me in the way the Breakthrough novels did. The lead characters aren’t as rounded as I’ve become accustomed to in his novels and, while their back stories, when revealed, were heart-breaking, there was a sense in which they felt a little too contrived. Maybe that’s a bit unfair and maybe it’s more to do with the climax of the novel (which relates to the back stories as well). After devoting all the book to this mystery at the heart of the letter, the brother’s disappearance after the war, the deaths that are occurring and the Nazis determination to uncover and keep the secret, when all is revealed, it’s a bit of an anti-climax. The finale was also very schmaltzy and while I love a bit of schmaltz, it was a little overplayed. It was also unclear exactly how and why what happened – when this mystery is uncovered – did (I’m trying not to do spoilers). Yes, we were given the explanation of matter and energy and all that, and it was fascinating and easy to follow… but…. Again, this is just my very humble opinion, but the ending happened so fast and it felt like there was a rush to resolve and end the tale, even though Grumley has left it open for another book.

Overall, I would give The Last Monument between 3-3.5 stars. Some great writing and an interesting plot that for me didn’t quite live up to its initial promise. 

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