Last Seen Alive

Ellery Hathaway Book 5

Joanna Schaffhausen

Minotaur Books

Jan 26th, 2022

Last Seen Alive by Joanna Schaffhausen shows why she is the master storyteller of serial killers. There is not a book she has written that is not terrifying, intense, and complex.  She not only gets into the heads of the murderers, but also the victims.  Readers will gain insight into what it is like to become a public figure because of circumstances beyond someone’s control, trying to find normalcy and privacy.

“My main character was She was loosely inspired by a woman named Carol DeRonch. Ted Bundy, pretending to be a policeman in Montana, abducted her at the age of eighteen.  She was suspicious after he drove away from the police station.  They struggled in the car, and she was able to escape. The day she escaped; Bundy found another woman who he killed. But being his first known living victim, Carol, was able to describe what he looked like and the car. Her survival allowed all the law enforcement officers in different states to put the clues together. Even though this is now more than forty years ago, she is still hounded by Ted Bundy enthusiasts.  Although he is dead, he follows her around like a ghost. At this point she prefers to be left alone. People wanted to know more about her, to know more about what it was like, and even pretended to be fellow victims. The idea behind Ellery is that as a young person she was attacked and survived. But somehow her life is still about this horrible man. How do they find an identity for themselves when the worst thing that happened is perceived as the most interesting about them?” 

The prologue shows how FBI Agent Reed Markham and Boston Detective Ellery Hathaway have a long relationship.  Seventeen years ago, he rescued fourteen-year-old Ellery, then known as Abby, from serial killer Francis Coben. This monster had kidnapped, tortured, and held her hostage in a closet for days.  There were seventeen other victims that he tortured, mutilated, and killed. 

Fast forward to current day when television celebrity and journalist Kate Hunter wants to interview Coben to supposedly get justice for the victims never found.  But his one condition for the interview and to give up the location of the bodies is a face-to-face meeting with Ellery. 

Coben is pure evil that lurks behind a normal face.  He is one of the most terrifying psychopaths to ever appear in a thriller.  Although the violence is not graphic, readers are able to understand his horrific crimes.  He loves to get into Ellery’s head and knows that he will always be a part of her soul.

“He has some elements that are Bundyesque. The infamy, the hunger for more, abducting young women with a lot of promise in their life. One of the reasons I write my books is that the public wants to make more of these awful men than is there to be found. This desire to imagine they are brilliant and charming when they have done horrific acts and should not be admired. I wanted to show like the others, Coben, is just this killing machine. The normal person and the monster live inside this one person.  He compartmentalizes, is a habitual liar, narcissist, egomaniac, and sociopath. Coben is obsessed with Ellery, the one outstanding victim, the one who got away at the age of fourteen.”  

Ellery and Reed had a rocky relationship, first rescuer/rescuee, then friends to lovers, but never able to get out from what brought them together when they first met. Unfortunately, Ellery walked away from Reed to try to free herself from Coben’s legacy. Now they are back working together to find the other victims.  The question for readers, will Reed and Ellery have their happy ending?

“I wanted to explore how the kidnapping and rescue was the worst thing that ever happened to her and the best thing that ever happened to him. The premise of the first book, The Vanishing Season, has them reunite after a decade and a half.  Reed feels he is the hero of the story, catching Coben, and rescuing her.  But after they reunite, he gets to see all the ways he did not save her.  He participated in perpetuating Coben’s legacy by writing a book off her story.  They are the only ones who know the truth about her story. They are a mirror of each other.  She never has to explain anything to him.  Both she and Reed can be themselves with each other that gives them a unique bond even with a 13  year age difference. Eventually they form a romantic attachment as adults.”

Although the crimes are dark, the author sets such a great pace that the book becomes a page turner that cannot be put down. There is something about serial killers that draws people to their stories. As with her other series and previous stories, Last Seen Alive, is part mystery, part character study. The conflicting emotions, the pain both physical and emotional, and the reality all play a part in the telling of this captivating thriller.



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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.