Whether you like stories of the sea or just love a ripping yarn, this book will have you clutching the arm of your chair, turning the pages with white knuckles, and happily exhausted when you get to the last page.
Cleverly structured like a mystery, beginning with the discovery of scraps of a human body in a bear's den, The Last Runtakes place over a few days that seem like an eternity when you're in the freezing water with four men tied together waiting to die but hoping absurdly for a chance to live.
Todd Lewan, a seasoned reporter, makes us live those long hours, strings us along as we try to imagine how hypothermia takes a man: "The cold. It's making you see things, say things. Just pray it doesn't make you start doing things." It seems impossible that the four reprobates, deserving nothing more than a watery grave, no loss to society, can hold it together another second. By the time we find them helplessly assaulted by twenty-foot waves, with torn safety suits and one weak flare, we already know them. They're not bad men, but hardly the brightest and best. They're fishermen, code for wild party dudes who'd rather spend their last days on the sea bucking the odds, going without sleep for eons at a time, figuring out how to do the arduous and bitterly repetitious tasks on board with bleeding hands, eating cold food and chopping slimy fish in an icy tin coffin below decks, than handle their mucked up lives on land for more than a few hours. For that, they'd need to be really stoned.
But Lewan makes it clear in the title - there is redemption at hand. Someone, maybe more than one of these characters, is going to blow through the crisis to another side of life. Will it be Skipper Morley, barely competent to run a fishing expedition but driven by the need to pay off debts incurred when he kicked in a policeman's face? Or Bob Doyle, quietly dumped out of the Coast Guard because he couldn't deal with his wife's infidelity and had started living worse than an animal? Or Ted LeFeuvre, one of the rescuers, whose barren life was run by habit and dry religious practice, and who had been responsible for getting Doyle discharged for his outrageously irresponsible behaviors?
The book shows us the raw gambler's greed of the fisherman's life, the desperation and the incredible camaraderie that keeps a drowning, freezing man holding his more feeble workmate in a fierce embrace despite the weight dragging them both down to a briny doom. Much like The Perfect Storm (with which it must inevitably be compared), we are subtly shown the collusion between the boat's owner (who didn't get things fixed, didn't replace the life raft or the extra radio), the skipper (hurting for cash and willing to try anything), the down-and-out crew (who opted for extra hours to bring in a catch when the weather was bearing down like a monster on the horizon), and the elements, nearly always the winners, exacting nature's due.
Who lives, who dies, who triumphs, this is the stuff of great campfire tales. A well-crafted book, even when read on solid ground.