Book Review: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay
By Doreen SheridanMarch 2, 2021
It’s hard to believe that this highwire act of tight plotting, alternating perspectives, and shifting timelines is a debut novel, but Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is a remarkable addition to the thriller genre, juggling all its many plot points so deftly that it kept me guessing whodunnit and why till the very end.
Matt Pine is a film student at NYU who’s estranged from his family when he receives devastating news. His parents, Evan and Liv, and younger siblings, Maggie and Tommy, had gone on vacation to Mexico when a gas leak at their rented accommodation killed them all. FBI Special Agent Sarah Keller comes to break the news to him and to ask of him a favor: the Mexican police are refusing to release the bodies unless a relative signs off on them in person. Also, she thinks it best that he be the one to tell the only other surviving member of his immediate family, and the indirect reason for Matt’s estrangement, his older brother Danny.
Several years ago, golden boy Danny was convicted of the murder of his high school girlfriend Charlotte Rose. His stunned family protested his innocence every step of the way, even participating in a true-crime documentary that made Danny Pine a household name. Only Matt refused to take part, an act the rest of his family still doesn’t understand. What they don’t know is that on the fateful night Charlotte died, Matt saw something that convinced him of his older brother’s guilt. Unwilling to burden his family even more, he keeps quiet, allowing the rift between them all to grow.
Now most of his family is dead, and Matt is being asked to tidy up the pieces. Numbly, he does as Agent Keller asks, but soon realizes that everything isn’t as it seems, even before he meets hostility with the Mexican police, who give him the runaround when they aren’t quick to anger, even threatening him with violence:
“I meant no offense,” Matt said. That wasn’t true. If Matt had learned one thing from his father, however, it was to never underestimate the power of an angry cop. When his dad gave talks about Danny’s case, he always warned parents to teach their children to treat police officers like a big dog they didn’t know. Most dogs were friendly, but you still wouldn’t just rush up to pet the creature; you’d use caution, make sure it didn’t bite. And you’d certainly never poke it with a stick. The same was true with cops. Most were hardworking, decent people. But the profession also attracted a certain breed. Like a rabid dog, you might not know the good from the bad until it was too late.
As Matt tries to make sense of all these deaths, he begins to see patterns that lead back to the Nebraska town where he grew up and Charlotte was murdered. With the help of Agent Keller and his own circle of unlikely friends, he’ll begin to unravel a conspiracy that could explain everything that’s happened, if he survives to tell the tale.
Each chapter of this page-turning novel feels almost die-cut, as Finlay effortlessly moves from different perspectives back and forth through time to seed both clues and red herrings as we work with the Pine family to figure out who really killed Charlotte.
Each chapter of this page-turning novel feels almost die-cut, as Finlay effortlessly moves from different perspectives back and forth through time to seed both clues and red herrings as we work with the Pine family to figure out who really killed Charlotte. I had new theories every few chapters, as evidence was slyly put forward before being squared away pages later. But what I enjoyed even more than the absorbing mystery was the examination of the bonds of family, of the grace and heart necessary to survive as a family unit even when placed under the heaviest of stresses. The love and pride the Pine members feel for each other is best exemplified in the bond between Evan, the dad who takes Danny’s conviction the hardest, and Maggie, the plucky teenage daughter who is the most resourceful investigator of them all:
He gazed at her, marveling that he’d helped produce such an amazing person. He’d always known she was special. From the time Maggie was a baby, Liv would say that their little girl had a “special edition” heart. It filled his own heart with pride to see that she’d never changed. It was the great mystery of parenting: Who would these little people become? Would the predictions you made when they were babies come true? Were their personalities forged by the age of seven, as he’d read somewhere? Would the morals you tried to instill stick? Or would there be a twist in the story?
Every Last Fear combines murders with family trauma in a very 21st century way, touching on so many topics relevant to the modern reader. It’s an intelligent thriller that marks the arrival of a master plotter and craftsman on the mystery scene. It’ll be exciting to see what Finlay has in store for us next, after this standout debut.