Imagine a group of high-powered vigilante women, who go beyond the bounds of the law to exact justice on men who do bad things and elude punishment within the system. In The Last Invitation, frenemies Gabby Fielding and Jessa Hall both get mixed up with this group when Gabby’s ex-husband dies from an apparent suicide and Jessa gets invited to join.
The Last Invitation is a fun, twisty thriller. The impetus behind the group’s formation is unfortunately understandable; the legal system has its limits and for bad men with resources, there are many ways for them to escape justice. I also like how the book delves into the moral complexity of the group’s ethos: the legal system is in place for good reasons; what right do people really have to skirt its boundaries?
In this novel, the moral question becomes somewhat more black-and-white, at least for me, when it’s revealed just how far the group goes to protect its interests. Their selection process for potential new members is pure hazing, possibly even blackmail. They mess with the potential member’s life and basically drive them into dire desperation before offering membership in the group — with all the vigilante activities required — as a means to make all their problems go away. It’s hinted that potential members who turn them down then become liabilities who must be dealt with, and that level of ruthlessness is chilling for a group the book presumably wants us to sympathize with. It’s also hinted that some of the more problematic acts by the group were a result of a member going rogue, but the group itself doesn’t seem too fussed about this behaviour.
And I think that’s why I ended up not enjoying this book as much as I thought I would. Part of me wanted a full-on fun revenge plot that just becomes complicated by particular circumstances, but I found the group a menacing force from the start. The group felt like a one-dimensional villain, which I didn’t expect when I started this book, and I wish there’d been more nuance to the work they did. Or even some time spent on making us want to cheer for some of their work, so that the reveal of their ruthlessness has more of an impact.
Perhaps that’s part of the thrills, where I was meant to root for Jessa and Gabby to win and for the group to fail, right from the beginning, but Jessa and Gabby’s storylines felt a bit too disjointed to really suck me into their story as a whole.
Gabby started out as a compelling character, but her big and supposedly scandalous secrets were a letdown. I didn’t really understand why the group had such a strong hold over her, nor, on the flip side, even why she cared so much about the truth behind her husband’s death. The whole drama with her family was a major factor for her decisions, but that plot didn’t really go anywhere, and eventually just seemed to fizzle out.
Jessa’s narrative arc was a bit more compelling, but I was frustrated by how much of her actions felt like they were forced upon her. For example, because the group goes so far in testing their potential future members, Jessa’s decision to join the group didn’t feel driven so much by her interest in their mission as by her desire to stop her life from going so far down the toilet. Conversely, her desire to break away from the group is interesting because we know the risks she would have to take, but again her agency is somewhat limited because for so much of the story, it’s mostly just Gabby trying to get her to leave.
The Last Invitation is a solid thriller, with interesting twists and a good pace to keep the pages turning. The characters just fell short for me, and while the concept of a vigilante group of high-powered women is compelling, the execution felt a bit flat.
Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.