New Jersey, New Year’s Eve 1999. A skeleton crew – four high school girls and their only slightly older manager – work the graveyard shift at a Blockbuster’s. The girls gossip and skirt their duty. Their manager – kindly, wearily and ineffectively – tries to get them to do their jobs, but the girl’s aren’t having it. Hours later they are all found dead. Only the youngest of them, Ella Monroe, survives. A suspect is quickly found but he flees before anyone can catch him.
Then, more than twenty years later, a similar bloodbath takes place at a Dairy Queen. Again, there is only one survivor: a young girl named Jesse, and she refuses to talk to anyone but Ella.
The novel tells the story from multiple perspectives. Ella is one of them, but there’s also Sara Keller, a heavily pregnant FBI agent; and Chris, the younger brother of the original suspect. Chris works as a pro deo lawyer for frustrating basket cases; Ella’s a therapist whose private life is a mess. The novel also frequently employs flashbacks to Y2K night at the Blockbuster’s. The whole thing never feels convoluted, though it took me a while to get all the characters straight: the plot is far from straightforward, but in a proper whodunnit that’s a good thing and I liked it for that reason alone.
But there is so much to love here. The characters are all well-rounded, flawed but likeable, from damaged, rebellious Ella who goes to bat for Jesse, to Chris, still on the lookout for his brother after all those years. The plot is twisty, but never over the top. The ending is heartbreaking and full of redemption. Not everything is great: the villain is almost cartoonish, some plot details are a little too convenient, FBI Agent Keller is basically Marge Gunderson 2.0 and Jesse, while compelling, is not a very consistent character. But those are minor quibbles. And really – who doesn’t like Marge Gunderson?
The Night Shift is Finlay’s sophomore effort. I liked his first book, Every Last Lie, but this one is even better, a genuine gem in the convoluted thriller genre. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.