The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton (Review by Marie Nguyen)
2 min read
Rating: 3.5 / 5
I was initially drawn to the The Last Train to Key West blurb because I was interested in a potential historical fiction novel that takes place without jumps in the timeline. I’ve read a bit of those recently, so I was intrigued by a story that takes place entirely during the 1930s economic depression in the Florida Keys, while one of the most aggressive hurricanes in history hit the area. The story follows 3 women – Mirta, who arrives in Key West from Cuba after marrying a complete stranger of questionable influence, Elizabeth, who traveled to the Keys completely alone from New York, and Helen, who is pregnant and stuck within an unhappy marriage.
I had actually never heard of the 1935 Labor Day Weekend hurricane that devastated the Florida Keys, so I was fascinated by the turn of events and history of the original Flagler’s railroad. I was also interested to learn about the veterans that contributed to the building of the railroad after World War I – the treatment of veterans back then hit so many trigger points on how they are treated today. As for the characters, I appreciated the growth each undertook as well as the intertwined connections between all of them. Though some may think the connections were too convenient, I thought they were a bit clever.
Though I enjoyed the book overall, I could have done without the strong romantic relationships that were a central theme with each woman. At least 2 of the couplings were a bit too insta-love attraction for my liking. I wish more time had been spent focused on the aftermath and impact of the hurricane on the community and veterans instead. On paper, each of the women could be described as a strong female, but their actions didn’t really fit that – only one really did much of anything to directly impact their outcome.