The Last Degree by Dina Rae [Review]
Before we begin this review, I think it’s worth pointing out that, despite certain eccentricities I have sometimes, I’m certainly no expert on conspiracy theories. Which I kinda thought would put me at a disadvantage reading Dina Rae’s The Last Degree, because it’s a novel that takes several favourite conspiracy theories — the Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Knights Templar and the New World Order — and smashes them together in a fast paced, race against time thriller, Dan Brown style. Fortunately though, thriller author Dina Rae apparently is one, and she does an excellent job of explaining the lore behind the novel’s events and how they’re relevant to the mystery that unfolds over the course of the story. This is a good thing, because The Last Degree contains quite a complex story that spans multiple different time periods and protagonists and, once you’ve been brought up to speed on what’s happening, it turns out to be quite a compelling read.
The Last Degree, according to its author, Dina Rae, is a “fictionalised account of how the Freemasons and other secret societies set up the world for takeover”. The story kicks off in Chicago in the year 2000 with homicide detectives being called in to investigate the grisly murder of a young accountant who happens to be connected to the local Freemasonry. What begins as a seemingly routine investigation soon turns out to be the latest in a series of incidents connected to something called the New World Order, and a Freemason prophecy that eventually brings about the end of the world as we know it. From this point onwards, Dina Rae jumps back and forth between the past, the present and the future, and gradually reveals three separate stories with different characters that are all intricately connected. Personally, I thought that this was a very good way to maintain tension and familiarise the reader with years of backstory without resorting to overloading them with exposition. Constantly switching between different time periods does a good job of preventing the entire mystery from coming together too quickly, and I’m always a sucker for books that encourage me to piece things together myself.
Unfortunately though, due to this anachronistic story structure, The Last Degree can be a little hard to get into at first. I barely had time to become familiar with what was happening in each time period and the personalities of each of the characters before suddenly shifting to another. A huge amount of characters and events are introduced rather quickly and, while the book is admittedly pretty fast paced for the most part, trying to remember all of this information and who comes from where (and when) was a little disorienting. It’s not actually until a little further into the book, when the author has given the reader a little bit of background information on the conspiracies that are being mentioned and it’s a little more clear about how everything fits together that the book started to hook me in. At this point, The Last Degree turns into an exciting Dan Brown-esque mystery, and it’s easy to see that this is where Rae is in her element, so it’s basically a case of sticking with it until the story starts picking up.
Also rather unfortunately, The Last Degree could really benefit from a good copy edit. There are quite a few grammatical and formatting errors throughout the book, such as misplaced commas or apostrophes, and even a couple of misspelled words (such as rigor mortis being spelled as rigamortis), which is a shame, because Dina Rae’s writing is actually very tight and flows well. While I was able to overlook these for the sake of reviewing the novel, someone who paid money might find it a little off-putting, and they’ll be missing out on a decently written story. Errors like these seem to be quite common in self published novels I’ve read (sadly) and it’s for this reason that I often don’t agree to review them. A traditional publishing house does the best it can to make sure any books it publishes are as polished as possible, and this is something that indie authors should be doing, too.
For what it’s worth though, I enjoyed The Last Degree despite these shortcomings. It’s clear that Dina Rae is a talented thriller writer. If you can ignore the flaws, you’ll find an exciting story featuring all of the most compelling conspiracy theory tropes rolled into one, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have plenty of research material to have fun looking up on Wikipedia afterwards. I highly recommend that fans of Dan Brown and his ilk check it out. There’s plenty of stuff in here that fans of these types of books will enjoy.
Note: For the record, I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.