On an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday, the bodies of the Pine family are found in a rented villa in Tulum, Mexico: the parents, Liv and Evan, and their two youngest children, seventeen year old Maggie and six year old Tom. The only survivors are the couple’s older sons, Matt and Danny. Danny is in prison for murdering his high school girlfriend and so it’s left to Matt to pick up the pieces. At first, he assumes they died by carbon monoxide poisoning, but then the FBI shows up and tell him foul play might be involved. They refuse to tell him why. As Matt goes to collect his family’s bodies he cannot shake the feeling that he is being followed. Strange things begin to happen.
Meanwhile, through flashbacks, we learn about Danny. Coerced into confession by an incompetent police force, there are many doubts about the validity of his sentence. He’s been the subject of a well-known Netflix true crime documentary, which has garnered him many supporters but has turned his hometown, which comes out of the movie looking less than flattering, against him.
Every Last Fear is a pretty good thriller. The writing is competent and of the no-frills variety; Finlay resists the temptation to prattle on about the importance of family and instead focuses on the events at hand. The mystery itself is good, and though I guessed the whodunnit fairly early on I wasn’t quite sure of myself until the very end. The pacing is relentless and the plot twists are generally not too far fetched, though the ending does feel a bit rushed, like the author was running out of pages.
But what really struck me about this book – and perhaps this says a lot about other thrillers – is that most of the characters, barring the bad guys, are decent people. Evan and Liv, seen through flashbacks, have their ups and downs but are ultimately a loving couple, aghast at the tragedy that has befallen them. Evan, in particular, refuses to give up on his son and ropes daughter Maggie into his crusade perhaps more than is responsible. Liv regards their plotting and scheming with weariness, but allows them the space they need to cope with the tragedy. Sarah Keller, the FBI agent in charge of the case, works long hours while her stay-at-home husband is nothing but supportive and cheers her on when she’s feeling guilty about not being home. Maggie’s friends, meanwhile, are supportive and non-judgemental, and Matt’s close-knit friend group supports him by feeding him, distracting him and flying out for his family’s funeral. I kept waiting for a big fight or a betrayal, but it never came. People are, at their core, mostly decent in this book, which was refreshing. And the characters feel real, too (aside from a few side characters who are a bit too cliche, but it can’t be helped). They’re not perfect, but they have decency.
The book blurb has a recommendation on it from Karin Slaughter, whose books I enjoy but who tends to be over the top with the rapiness and the gore. This book is still high-octane and it has its grisly details, but it somehow feels kinder, more hopeful. It’s also suspenseful and rather up to date with its focus on the effects that social media and high profile true crime docs can have on a case. It lacks pretension but achieves being what it aims to be: a cracking good mystery.