The Last Laugh by Mindy McGinnis Book Review

Most sequels I’ve read recently have disappointed me and diminished my love for prior instalments. But Mindy McGinnis following up on her fun, discomforting The Initial Insult manages to continue delivering. Now, this review spoils a large chunk of the last book, so if you haven’t already read The Initial Insult, I encourage you to go find a copy and stop reading now.

The last entry of this two-part series regarded the point of view of two ex-best-friends, Tress Montor and Felicity Turnado. Tress had a decent life until her parents drove Felicity home from a party and their car was found crashed and Felicity unconscious, the parents never heard from again. Ever since then Tress had to go live her grandpa Cecil, who she doesn’t love enough to refer to as Grandpa but just Cecil, and who runs the shoddy infamous Amontillado Animal Attractions zoo. To make ends meet she’s been selling drugs she’s been growing out in their field, and spends her time shoveling manure and wrestling with panthers.

Well, she had a hair-brained scheme to kidnap her former best friend in the basement of a mansion where a Friday night party took place, the music up so high there was no way Felicity’s screams would be heard. Tress tried to torture Felicity into revealing what happened that night with her parents. Maybe she can find them. Maybe she can have closure. The mansion is to be demolished, and Tress ended up building a fake brick wall slowly and sadistically between a chained up Felicity and the exit, to intimidate her into spilling the beans…That was what The Initial Insult was. So what was the result?

Felicity was able to convince Tress that she doesn’t know a thing, and we find out from her own viewpoint that it’s completely true. Then a panther of all things ended up getting loose from the grungy Animal Attractions, Felicity got seriously injured (too long story) and Tress tried to go get help but she was unable to get there before she died…so Tress had to finish up the brickwork for the wall. Now the mansion is demolished with her secret buried…with Tress no closer to finding the mystery of her lost parents and guilty of murder. Plus, there’s a panther on the loose, Felicity is the new missing person with everyone trying to find her, and a video is circulating from the party last night about one of the kids, rich boy Kermit Usher, nickname Ribbit, getting as drunk as a heavy metal band on a Saturday night and stripping stark naked and revealing horrifying truths. He’s getting his 15 minutes of fame with his reputation a possible cost, and police are beginning to use the video to further investigate Felicity’s disappearance. So how will this all end? Who will get this apparent last laugh? In addition to Tress, we also now hear from Ribbit’s point of view, who is in love with Felicity and will find her if it’s the last thing he does. Good luck with that, chum.

Some less skilled authors would’ve done the easier route and zapped Tress ahead some significant time rather than have the story continue when her act is fresh and the disappearance has brought Amontillado to a still. But McGinnis knows she crafted a very troubling situation for pretty much every character and we would not stand for the storytelling opportunities to go to waste. I’ll admit this book is not quite as entertaining as the last instalment, because though there’s a discomfort factor still here with Tress in guilt and fear, it is not as hard-pressing as the captivity theme from before. It slows down a bit in the third act and Ribbit’s point of view sometimes sags with details both not the most interesting or important. But I wouldn’t classify Ribbit as overall a bad point of view. He’s probably the best new character to hear from considering the circumstances.

One thing it also doesn’t forget is one of the biggest reasons The Initial Insult was so troubling was the griminess of Tress’ world. It’s filthy, dangerous and stomach-churning. You can almost smell the marijuana and the leftover whiskey from Cecil’s trailer, as well as the wound Tress got from the panther that is starting to get infected and rot. These books might not be for those with weak stomachs. But I usually love reading about characters from these worlds. It can be therapeutic when we think about our own troubles and make us think about how much more we can do to support people in those sort of living conditions.

McGinnis managed to be evil enough to make us feel that whichever way Tress’ story ended, it wouldn’t be sweet and steady. The end of the last book certainly had bite. And how does it end? You’ll have to find out. And overall, the story of a modern-day Amontillado, that was inspired by a similar hostage story by Edgar Allen Poe, is one I look forward to revisiting with my nose plug and nail bat.

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