The title, “last man out,” refers to a protocol for cave divers – the first man in is the last man out. Sometimes, the last man doesn’t make it out alive. The diving maxim doesn’t really play a part in the story, but it’s a catchy title. This short novel is very well written and edited, making it a pleasure to read. It moves along at a good pace and is equal parts romantic adventure and murder mystery, written from the point of view of Andie, a general practice doctor in a small Florida town. Andie has several side-plots involving her brooding teenaged daughter, a lurking ex-husband, an overbearing Greek mother (there is a lot of reference to the Greek culture of the family and the town), a pushy best friend who is also the county medical examiner, and a hunky former high school classmate who is now the chief detective investigating the case of at least two murders involving cave divers. Andie’s ex-husband is an expert cave diver, and there is a lot of detail about the cave diving process in this book. Searching for lost Spanish treasure in the hidden caves of Florida is certainly an intriguing setting for a story.
The main plot starts off with the murder of a diver by his fellow diver and treasure-hunting companion. The reader knows very little about the treasure or the hunt, or (in the beginning) why it involves cave diving. Soon after, the murderer is also found dead. Andie is pulled into the investigation because she examined the now-dead murder suspect, because she is friends with the ME, because she knows about diving, and because she knows the detective, Sean. After Andie happens to witness a mysterious skinny man fighting with a rival dive shop owner, whose shop is blown up shortly after, the race is on to solve the mystery.
But, the main plot is never the focus of this book. The mysterious skinny man is never named, and the reader has to speculate about why the other two members of this team of treasure hunters were killed and why the skinny man does what he does through the rest of the book. We get no history about the treasure itself, how it came to be in its hidden place, how the unnamed skinny man found it there, or who the other two divers were. There are several big plot holes and several convenient coincidences, as well as a substantial logic problem with the exciting climactic sequence. But, that’s not the focus of the book. The book is about Andie, and the side plots. It’s more of a cozy mystery with romantic suggestions than a crime thriller.
Despite the plot issues, this is a fun read, with interesting characters. The side plots about Andie’s romantic interest in Sean, her embattled relationship with her daughter, her Greek heritage, and her tense dealings with her ex-husband are the main focus of what is already a pretty short book. The good news is that these side plots are interesting and well-written. Since Andie is not a cop (or the ME), she’s not really “investigating” the murders, but is still our point-of-view into the story. Sometimes the author has to stretch to explain exactly why Andie is so involved, but we’re glad she is since she’s such an engaging person.
This book is a great example of how good writing can save a book with marginal content. Had this book been littered with grammar and punctuation errors, or had thinly written characters lacking depth or detail, it would have been a torturous read. But, with colorful writing and excellent editing, you can overlook the plot flaws and allow yourself to be carried along by the characters. This is a quick, fun read and a well-written book.