Short Stories 366:234 — “The Last Page,” by Barbara Monajem

coverWhile many of the stories in Crime Travel tackle serious crimes (often murder) alongside the theme of time travel, I have to admit I have a soft spot for the tales that aimed things in a more capery direction, and “The Last Page,” by Barbara Monajem, has that delightful “unplanned chaos” aspect of capers that I love. The protagonist, Lise, a former resident of Montreal who worked as a bartender at a strip club and only later learned just how criminal her bosses were (and ended up in over her head and then bolting with some of the bosses cash) has since fled to Britain, gotten a job at a castle, and thinks she’s likely safe right up until her former boss arrives.

We start the tale with Lise hiding in the supposedly haunted room of the castle, where she hopes the ghost might lend a hand with her immediate problem. As Lise hides, she also ruminates on the history of the castle, a particular missing treasure that her ancestors claim they brought to Quebec, her boss’s scholarly writings on the castle (soon to be published), and Lise’s general ability to always do the slightly wrong and reckless thing. In a panicked moment of self-defence, she grabs a historical pistol (as historian herself, she knows how to prep and fire it), races to the room to barricade and hide herself, and then things take a turn for the paranormal, and Lise finds herself holding a literal smoking gun, a missing treasure, and the ire of a historical figure she knows very, very well (seriously, she’s read his whole diary, with the exception of the titular missing last page).

The time travel is mystical in this story, and the results are super charming. I adore how Lise rolls with the punches, realizes there’s no easy way out of the situation she’s in, and then relies on her historical knowledge to do what she hopes is the right thing. The connection between what Lise was wishing for at the worst moment in her life and how the treasure delivers on that is a borderline meet-cute, and honestly, I’d cheerfully read more about this couple if the author were willing to do it.

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