While in college in upstate New York, Shay Evans and her best friends met a captivating man who seduced them with a web of lies about the way the world works, bringing them under his thrall. By senior year, Shay and her friend Laurel were the only ones who managed to escape. Now, eight years later, Shay’s built a new life in a tiny Texas suburb. But when she hears the horrifying news of Laurel’s death—delivered, of all ways, by her favorite true-crime podcast crusader—she begins to suspect that the past she thought she buried is still very much alive, and the predators more dangerous than ever.
Recruiting the help of the podcast host, Shay goes back to the place she vowed never to return to in search of answers. As she follows the threads of her friend’s life, she’s pulled into a dark, seductive world, where wealth and privilege shield brutal philosophies that feel all too familiar. When Shay’s obsession with uncovering the truth becomes so consuming she can no longer separate her desire for justice from darker desires newly reawakened, she must confront the depths of her own complicity and conditioning. But in a world built for men to rule it—both inside the cult and outside of it—is justice even possible, and if so, how far will Shay go to get it?
Ashley Winstead has somehow managed to surpass the high expectations I had for her second thriller. In My Dreams I Hold a Knife was one of my favorite reads last year and The Last Housewife is even better. It blew my mind and terrified me by opening my eyes to just how scary it can be to be a woman in this world.
I had the ultimate confidence in Winstead that I didn’t even read the synopsis before picking this book up. Within the first few chapters though I knew I had a sex cult on my hands. It was intriguing seeing how it all played out both within Shay’s head yet still seeing things through my own lens. The cult made sense to me and I could see how Shay and her friends were sucked into it. They go to a “ultra-feminist” college that produces strong and forward thinking women yet somehow are drawn into this group with those feminist principles twisted in such a way that they look the same. It really made me question if we’ve come as far in trying to achieve equality as we’ve been lead to believe.
I loved being in Shay’s head, but also being able to take a two back and get my own perspective on her situation. At times I found Shay vapid and shallow, so obsessed with her looks and the power her beauty gave her while also making her a target. I know exactly what that’s like, to train yourself to seem small and avoid eye contact when walking down a street yet take that power and use it to your advantage in other situations. It’s like walking a fine line and we see Shay trying to balance that and her thinking she’s got it down but it also being used against her. At times it was like holding up a mirror to Shay and seeing myself reflected back in it. Utterly terrifying to glimpse that side of myself playing the game as she did.
This was a heavy book (obviously if you’ve made it this far in my review) but there was so much to unpack. Discussions about what it means to be a victim, what different people consider to be consent, the anxiety of what it’s like to be a woman in public, and just how much powerful men are willing to do to keep control of women. The books is eerily timed with the Roe v. Wade discussions which just make it that much more impactful. I made the mistake of thinking I was getting a typical thriller and instead found something so much scarier.