Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Title: The Last House on Needless Street
Author: Catriona Ward
Publisher: Nightfire
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

The Last House on Needless Street is going to be a tough one to review. Before delving into the subject matter, I’ll recap my reading experience. I was confused at first. I quickly became turned off and repulsed. Then baffled again. I thought about putting the book down and walking away. Then I wanted to know if what I’d guessed was at all accurate. Then I wanted to know what actually happened… and ultimately, I saw it through all the way to the end, barely able to look away for the final third. But it’s not an exageration to say that for most of the book, the question of whether or not to continue was constantly on my mind.

This has to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in the last few years. It’s practically impossible to get a good grasp on what’s happening. The story involves a missing child, as well as a main character, Ted, whose behavior is creepy and suspicious from the get-go… yet we know that he was investigated years ago when the child disappeared, and no evidence was found to link him to the supposed abduction.

So is Ted a kidnapper, abuser, and a murderer? If so, how has he gotten away with it? How does he manage to keep his daughter Lauren hidden away? Why does his cat seem to love him, even though she has a rich inner life of her own?

I can’t say too much for fear of getting into spoilers, and trust me, you do not want to know anything further about the plot if you’re considering reading this book.

For about the first half of the book, if you’d asked me for a rating, I’d have said two stars, maybe three at a stretch. And even here, having finished the book and settling on 4.5 stars, I’m still not certain that really reflects my reading experience.

On the one hand, I have to give endless kudos to the author, who concocted a complicated and utterly creepy and confusing story, and yet manages to make the pieces fit together by the end. The story as a whole is masterfully woven together — a truly impressive feat.

On the other hand, this was probably the least enjoyable reading I’ve done in ages. There’s absolutely nothing fun or pleasurable about reading this horrifying tale. I’ve read my fair share of horror and psychological thrillers, and even at their most disturbing or gruesome, most of them are still books that I’ve enjoyed reading, one way or another. I can’t say that I enjoyed even a little bit of The Last House on Needless Street.

And yet… I have to recognize that this book is incredibly well crafted and tells a twisty tale unlike any other I’ve read. Do I recommend it? Yes and no. Yes, it’s fascinating and, after a certain point, oh-so-hard to put down. But it also wrecked my mood this weekend by forcing me to spend time in the truly dark places the story explores.

Your mileage may vary. This book will not be for everyone, not by a longshot. But I do have certain friends whose taste in books is basically — the grimmer, the better… and for them, this might be perfect.


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5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

  1. I think you really summed up this story well. Especially for readers who don’t read a lot of disturbing horror, this is especially upsetting. But I completely agree that this was masterfully written. I honestly did not catch on for the longest time what was going on, and that made it a better story.

    • Yes, for sure — I had a suspicion, then at some point realized I was wrong, only to find out that I was right later… but none of it unspooled in a way I could have predicted. If I’d known the entire premise going in, I’m not sure it would have worked as well.

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