The Last September

The Last September

by Nina de Gramont


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“If you liked The Girl on the Train, read The Last September, a literary whodunit set on Cape Cod, weaving a murder mystery with the emotionally intense story of a fraying marriage.”—Newsday

“Impossible to put down . . . With an artist’s eye and a poet’s heart, de Gramont realizes a world of love, mystery, and the shattering sorrow of mental illness, deceit, hope, and lives cut short.” —Library Journal, starred review

Brett has been in love with her husband, Charlie, from the day she laid eyes on him in college. When he is found murdered, Brett is devastated. But if she is honest with herself, their marriage had been hanging by a thread for quite some time.

All clues point to Charlie’s mentally ill brother, Eli, but any number of people might have been driven to kill Charlie--a handsome, charismatic man who unwittingly damaged almost every life he touched. Brett is determined to understand how such a tragedy could have happened--and whether she was somehow complicit.

Set in the desolate autumn beauty of Cape Cod, this riveting emotional puzzle explores the psyche of a woman facing down the meaning of love and loyalty.

The Last September is a wonderful, glowing book populated by characters that become a part of your life long after the last page has been turned. It is the type of novel writers admire and readers long for.” —Jason Mott, author of The Returned

“Brilliant rendering of love story and murder mystery . . . I was hooked by the first paragraph, which somehow contains all the beautiful, luminous grief of the whole story, and I truly did not want to let it go in the end.” —Brad Watson, author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives

“A moody murder mystery . . . Boasts lovely, understated writing, sharply drawn settings . . . and, once again, characters who are irresistibly attractive, flawed, and dangerous . . . A fine literary whodunit from an accomplished storyteller.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616206093
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 07/05/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 817,676
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Nina de Gramont is the author of the story collection Of Cats and Men, which was a Book Sense selection and won a Discovery Award from the New England Booksellers Association. Her first novel, Gossip of the Starlings, was also a Book Sense pick. She is the coeditor of an anthology called Choice and the author of several young adult novels. She teaches in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina–Wilmington. Find her at


Read an Excerpt


Because I am a student of literature, I will start my story on the day Charlie died. In other words, I’m beginning in the middle. In medias res, that’s the Latin term, and though my specialty is American Renaissance poetry, I did have to study the classics. Homer, Dante, Milton. They knew about the middle, how all of life revolves around a single moment in time. Everything that comes before leads up to that moment. Everything that comes afterward springs from that moment.

In my case, that moment--that middle--is my husband’s murder.

WHEN I LOOK BACK NOW, it hurtles toward us like a meteor. But at the time we were too wrapped up in our day-­to-­day life to see it. Charlie and I lived in a borrowed house by the ocean. Our daughter, Sarah, was fifteen months old. September had just arrived, emptying the beaches at the very moment they became most spectacular: matte autumn sunlight and burnished eel grass. Cape Cod Bay was dark enough to welcome back seals but warm enough for swimming, at least if you were Charlie. He made a point of swimming in the ocean at least one day every month, including December, January, and February. I used to joke that he was part dolphin.

But this was late summer, and unseasonably warm. You didn’t need to be a dolphin to go swimming, and on Charlie’s last day he had already been in the water by the time Sarah woke up from her morning nap. At eleven thirty, he carried her into the extra bedroom I used as a study. If I’d run my hand through his hair, I would have felt the leftover grit of salt water. But I didn’t run my hand through his hair because I was too angry. I was generally angry at Charlie that fall, and it didn’t help, his tendency to wander into the room where he knew I was trying to work. Sarah still wore nothing but a diaper, and obviously not a clean one. Between jobs since his restaurant failed, Charlie had spent the morning working on reshingling the house, which belonged to his father. Like Sarah, he was half naked; he wore khaki shorts and no shirt. Ignoring my pointed glance, he lay down on the worn, woven rug, crossing his long legs at the ankles. His curly blond head rested on his hands with his elbows pointing toward the ceiling. Sarah squatted about six inches away, her gaze focused on her father, concentrating in that intense toddler way—almost as if she knew these hours constituted her last chance to see him alive. Remembering that look, I like to think of Charlie’s face imprinting itself on her subconscious, the memory as intrinsic as the strands of his DNA. Sarah was a thoughtful child who already had an impressive vocabulary—twenty words that she said regularly, more popping up here and there. But she was slower to walk. She hadn’t begun crawling until past her first birthday; she often stood up on her own, her face scrunched in a grimace as if she were planning to walk, but she had yet to risk a step.

I sat at my desk, reading a collection of Emily Dickinson’s letters to her sister-­in-­law. My dissertation was on these letters, their hidden code. Charlie had promised to watch Sarah but instead was letting his parenting time spill into mine—lounging with only one halfhearted eye on his daughter. I tried not to move my eyes from the text. If I indulged in my usual gaze out at Cape Cod Bay, it might imply availability. I’d spent the early morning with Sarah and would have her again in the afternoon. Now was the time for Charlie to remove himself and our child from my work space. Staring down with unnatural concentration, I marked a line that I had already underlined many times, grooves surrounding it so deeply that you could almost read a sentence on the next page through the wear. Sue, you can stay or go. I dragged my pen beneath it, drew another large star in the margin, then put down my pen and sighed.

Just as Charlie raised his eyes to mine, Sarah teetered to her feet. She pushed up with one hand on the teepee of her father’s crooked elbow. Then she let go, picked up one bare foot, and stepped closer to him. I pushed my book aside. This was the moment I’d been waiting for, checking milestone charts, harassing the pediatrician.

“Did she just take a step?” I asked, as if I hadn’t seen it myself.

Sarah broke into a smile. Her fat little legs began to shake with the effort. Charlie and I froze as she lifted her foot to step again, then collapsed in a triumphant, diapered heap on his chest.

“Step,” Sarah said, her voice filled with the finality of the achievement, and the prospect of a new world of movement.

Charlie got to his feet and swooped Sarah over his head in one fluid motion, so her white curls grazed the exposed beams of the sloped, second-­story ceiling. Two identical pairs of blue eyes smiled at each other. Everywhere Sarah and I went people asked, “Is she yours?” assuming I must be the small, dark-­eyed nanny.

With a smile that mirrored his rosy mirror self, Charlie pretended to take a congratulatory bite out of Sarah’s cheek. Not a giggler, she didn’t laugh, but just looked quietly and enormously pleased. Clearly she understood her accomplishment and all that it presaged. She had spent months thinking it through, and finally the road lay passable before her. We cheered, Charlie bringing her down to his chest so I could step in for a family hug. His bare skin felt warm against my forearms. Sarah’s spicy baby scent bonded the three of us into a single entity. We could hear the flutter and chirp of swallows outside our open window as they staged for their journey south. The Saturday Cove church bells chimed the half hour, mingling with the salty breeze off the ocean. Our home’s musty disrepair transformed, as it sometimes did, into something almost magical.

“My God,” Charlie said. “I love you so much.”

He squeezed his hand at my waist, a degree of fervency, as if he had something to prove to me. So I said the only possible thing, reflecting the dominant, if not sole, emotion: “I love you, too.”

Charlie kissed my forehead. And Sarah--who deeply approved of any kind of affection--put one hand on her father’s bare shoulder and one hand on my T-­shirted breast. Then she laughed.

I hope I’m not just being charitable toward myself but am remembering correctly, because it seems to me now that in that moment, I thought: if Charlie left for work every morning in a coat and tie, we might have enough money to pay our bills or move out of his father’s summer house. But we wouldn’t have been in the same room, all together, to witness Sarah’s long-­awaited first step.

And that moment is what should have remained of the day--happy and indelible, an entry in a pale pink baby book. If the phone hadn’t rung two hours later, I never would have known to regret using up our luck so early. When I think about the rest of that day, and how it unfolded, there are too many stretches of time that would require rewriting, if ever the chance presented itself: to do everything over again.

I WAS AT THE POST OFFICE when Eli called Charlie. All traceable moments were carefully detailed later, in police reports, so I know that at the precise instant the phone rang back at the Moss house, I was standing in the vault of mailboxes staring at a postcard from Ladd Williams. Sarah had one sticky hand wound into my hair and she stared down at the note intently, as if she could read it, too. Ladd had funny, distinctive handwriting--all sharp angles and cubes. I recognized it without having to look at the signature.

I turned the card over. On the front was a picture of a toucan. Honduras, it read, under the bird’s otherworldly green, red, and blue beak. Todo Macanudo. Ladd had gone there with the Peace Corps, but apparently he was back—the card was postmarked Saturday Cove. The note, which I’d already memorized, read: Dear Brett. Staying at my uncle’s cottage. He has some books you used to want, you can stop by to borrow if you like. Best wishes, Ladd.

I closed our box, leaving the rest of the mail--bills we couldn’t pay--untouched. As I pushed through the door into the sunlight, Sarah plucked the postcard out of my hands. “Cat,” she said, looking at the bird. Cat was her standard word for anything new. Then, as if she knew this wasn’t quite right, amended, “Kitty.”

How like Ladd, I thought, not to include a phone number or tell me the title of the books. If I wanted to know, I’d have to show up on his doorstep. The last time I’d heard from him was just before he left the country, a little more than two years ago. He’d written a sort-­of love letter intimating that I was the reason he needed to go away. But it was a convoluted piece of writing, filled with erasures and apologies and semisarcastic jokes, and I didn’t know how seriously to take it, or if I’d interpreted it correctly in the first place. I’d also never mentioned it to Charlie.

Sarah brought the postcard to her lips, nibbling delicately on one corner. Part of me wanted to take the bait immediately and drive over to his uncle’s compound. I wondered if anyone had told Ladd that I’d had a baby. I buckled Sarah into her car seat and pried the soggy postcard out of her grip. Instead of putting it in my pocket, I just tossed it onto the backseat, where Charlie could find it if he had any interest, which he probably didn’t. Charlie never got jealous.

And that’s what I thought about on the short drive home: a postcard from an ex-­boyfriend. My husband’s general lack of jealousy, and how it was probably founded. If Ladd could see me now--with my hair unwashed and sweatpants doing nothing to camouflage the still-­leftover pregnancy pounds, not to mention the child all but sewn to my hip--he probably would not be writing cryptic love letters.

What did I know about the way my life would change in a matter of hours? Absolutely nothing. Murder. It’s a word out of potboilers and film noirs. It leaps from the TV screen during police dramas or the evening news. It doesn’t sound real. It’s nothing you ever think will have to do with you.

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The Last September 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
The Last September is the story of a love that turns into a marriage that has a lot of issues but a lot of love too. Charlie and Brett had love at first sight. At least for Brett it was. Charlie met her, spent a night with her, and left. When they happen to run into each other again the attraction is still there. As their relationship moves forward, Brett forsakes her fiancé and stays by Charlie’s side when his world is falling apart. Charlie is immature, irresponsible, and unable to provide for his family. Brett is doing all she can to hold it all together. When the unthinkable happens Brett gets her eyes pulled wide open and sees exactly what her marriage was. She has a baby to take care of and no real way to provide. Her past manages to save her and give her a safe haven while trying to deal with what happen to Charlie. This is a different story, sometimes rather strange. There is mental illness, murder, true love, and mystery all in one amazing story. I wanted to read it all in one sitting, but had to stop when my eyes would no longer stay open. Nina de Gramont wrote a book with a lot of emotion. It is a good book with great writing. I would definitely recommend checking it out.
AnnieMcDonnell More than 1 year ago
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Nina de Gramont writes with such a pleasurable touch. Her words flow beautifully, and make this book such a joy to read. I admire an author that uses words so movingly. This is a truly suspenseful story that will have you on the edge of your seat. She writes of love, loyalty, family, devotion, mental illness, and murder. We watch her main character, Brett grow in to a woman from a teenager, and the transformation is rather engaging. She is a bit all over the place with her heart, but that is what makes this story so captivating. We are introduced to a super close knit group of friends and family. Brett’s best friend is Eli Moss, whom she attends college with in Colorado. She meets Eli’s brother, Charlie, at one of Eli’s frat house parties…and, she is immediately in deep serious love with this man. This love (or infatuation) spans years. He is always at the epicenter of her heart. She gets engaged to Ladd Williams; who, ironically knows the Moss family from Cape Cod. A little too close for comfort? Maybe. But, they are all lving in the picturesque town of Cape Cod…right, in the throes of fall. The scene is set perfectly! I felt like I was right there. Nina de Gramont begins this story in the middle….right where Charlie is found bludgeoned to death. The night before, Charlie tells Brett that he is letting Eli come stay with them, because his roommates kicked him out. Yet, Brett is concerned about the safety of their 15 month old daughter, so she leaves to spend the night at a friend’s house. With Charlie not answering the phone, she heads on over to their home…to find Eli pacing, and Charlie dead. Brett states, Murder…”It’s nothing you ever think will have to do with you”. Then we go to the past to learn how they all met and then move forward to the present. This way of storytelling was very unique, and I enjoyed it. One of the most paramount parts of this story is that Eli suffers from schizophrenia, which is diagnosed after he jumps off of a building at college. Brett was there to witness this event…he survives the fall. And, this story is all about what transpires after this event. Who killed Charlie? and, Why? I bet this book will keep you guessing! The ending of the book, kind of missed the mark for me...but, it was still a pleasure to read.
BuckeyeAngel More than 1 year ago
**I received an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review** Brett's specialty was American Renaissance poetry. Her husband Charlie had been murdered when their daughter Sarah was 15 months old. Brett knew Eli, Charlie's brother, first. She met Charlie when she was 18. Eli told Charlie Brett was one of his best friends. Brett and Charlie had one night together then she didn't hear from him in a long time. 7 years later, Brett was engaged to Ladd and saw Eli again. Brett was the kind of person that fell in love with someone after one night, even after he hurt and deserted her. When the choice was between a guy she was engaged to and the guy she loved, she chose the guy she had loved. This was kind of a strange story, including mental illness in the plot. I did enjoy it. I read it all in one sitting. I couldn't stop once I started it. Yet, somehow I had a lot of emotions about the story. I did enjoy the book, even though it was sad and tragic in a lot of ways. It was still a good book and good writing. I would recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a good book pulled u in loved the ending. Kept me guessing.