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Last Town on Earth (Mullen) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Quietly, ominously, these details create a larger background we may recognize — a deeply unpopular war, a subservient press, a secretive vigilante-like group called the American Protective League, sponsored by the Department of Justice, which monitors the draft and suppresses dissent. As always, noncombatant politicians wage a comical war against language (substituting, say, "liberty cabbage" for "sauerkraut.").
Max Byrd - New York Time


A novel about the Spanish flu would be hard put to avoid grimness, of course, what with all the dying that will have to go on if it's going to be true to the historical event. But grim can be gripping. As does nearly every would-be serious novel hoping for a breakthrough these days, Mullen's book has most of the requisite elements: psychological suspense, villains, victims, a conflicted hero or two, secrets and a mystery. In short, it's a grabber.
Zofia Smardz - Washington Post


It is the autumn of 1918 and a world war and an influenza epidemic rage outside the isolated utopian logging community of Commonwealth, Wash. In an eerily familiar climate of fear, rumor and patriotic hysteria, the town enacts a strict quarantine, posting guards at the only road into town. A weary soldier approaches the gate on foot and refuses to stop. Shots ring out, setting into motion a sequence of events that will bring the town face-to-face with some of the 20th-century's worst horrors. Mullen's ambitious debut is set against a plausibly sketched background, including events such the Everett Massacre (between vigilantes and the IWW), the political repression that accompanied the U.S. entry into WWI and the rise of the Wobblies. But what Mullen supplies in terms of historical context, he lacks in storytelling; though the novel is set in 1918, it was written in a post 9/11 world where fear of bird flu regularly makes headlines, and the allegory is heavy-handed (the protagonist townie, after all, is named Philip Worthy). The grim fascination of the narrative, however, will keep readers turning the pages.
Publishers Weekly


Set in 1918, with World War I raging in Europe and a deadly flu epidemic spreading to and through America, this is the story of a town that decides to take its fate into its own hands. The committee members of the Washington town of Commonwealth decide to set up an armed outpost to prevent those infected with influenza from getting in. Young guards Graham, a mill worker, and Philip, the 16-year-old adopted son of the mill owner, reluctantly murder a soldier from a local fort who tries to force his way in. A few days later, a second soldier attempts to gain entry. Philip, alone this time, can't shoot the man, and the youth and soldier end up quarantined together. Yet despite the town's precautions, the plague arrives and wreaks graphically depicted havoc. Debut novelist Mullen patiently unfolds the plot, using historical facts as a springboard. His long and absorbing novel is a timely and sobering look back at a nation during a deadly war involving a human enemy far away, a disease at home, fear, and political and cultural forces. Recommended for all collections. —Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta, NY
Library Journal


Set in 1918 against the backdrop of World War I and the influenza epidemic, this ambitious debut novel draws several vivid parallels with current times.... Although the novel is too long and, in places, too detailed, its foreboding atmosphere and grim story line exert considerable pull.  —Joanne Wilkinson
Booklist


A progressive community buckles under a double whammy: the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and the hatreds stirred by American participation in WWI. Deep in the evergreens north of Seattle, a company town revolves around its timber mill. Owner Charles Worthy founded Commonwealth in 1916, and two years later, the town is thriving. The workers own their homes and set the rules, dispensing with police. After nearby Timber Falls is hit by the flu, a majority of Commonwealth's residents decide to quarantine the town. Armed volunteers guard the one access road. Worthy's adopted son, 16-year-old Philip, is on guard duty with Graham, an older man he regards as a big brother, when a disheveled soldier emerges from the woods and ignores orders to stop. Graham shoots him dead. Some days later, Philip is the lone sentry when a second soldier appears. After a skirmish, Philip and the soldier are detained by another guard, also deemed a possible carrier. Meanwhile, Commonwealth has its first flu death: a Canadian who snuck into Timber Falls for some liquor. The sickness travels with astonishing speed; fear and suspicion infect the town along with the epidemic. As supplies dwindle, the store and community gardens are plundered. Mullen has a good premise for a disaster story, but a fatal weakness for melodrama. Graham kills the imprisoned soldier, believing him to be the original carrier. Philip, back home but now stricken himself, rises from his sickbed to confront Graham; then a delegation of lawmen and goons from Timber Falls forces its way into town to arrest draft-dodgers, including the sick and contagious. Mullen's debut gets mileage out of the gruesome epidemic and contains some interesting historical nuggets, but it fails to mesh its grim subject matter with convincing individual narratives.
Kirkus Reviews




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