"Every Last Fear" by Alex Finlay; Minotaur (368 pages, $26.99)
The last conversation with a loved one can weigh heavily if that talk ends badly and, indeed, becomes the final contact with that person. New York University student Matt Pine remembers all too well that the last phone call with his father, Evan, erupted into an explosive argument.
The contention was, as usual, over Matt’s brother, Danny, who is seven years into a life sentence for murdering his pregnant high school girlfriend, Charlotte. Evan was adamant that his oldest son is innocent. It would be the last time Matt would speak with his father. The next day, Evan took his wife, Olivia, 17-year-old daughter, Maggie, and 6-year-old son, Tommy, on an impromptu vacation to Tulum, Mexico, where the family died in a rental guest house. The local police believe it was a gas leak but “Every Last Fear” wouldn’t be a taut, suspense-filled mystery if the deaths were an accident.
The pseudonymous Alex Finlay delivers a gripping debut in “Every Last Fear,” a thriller that derives its action from a compelling family drama touching on unconditional love, obsession and betrayal. The emotional violence the Pines endure is more destructive than physical violence.
Danny’s arrest and conviction “dominated his family,” especially Evan, whose obsessive determination to prove his son innocent caused him to deplete their savings, neglect the rest of his family and led to him losing his job at a firm that the FBI was investigating for laundering money for a Mexican cartel. Danny’s arrest was controversial from the beginning — the police had another suspect but coerced him into confessing as a TV documentary showed. The Mexico trip was planned because Evan thought he found evidence that could exonerate Danny.
Perceptive FBI agent Sarah Keller doesn’t believe the Pines’ deaths were an accident, especially when Matt appears to be in danger.
Finlay expertly alternates “Every Last Fear” between the current investigation and the past while keeping the plot character-driven, showing the flaws and betrayals of each person. Sarah’s strong marriage and family life are the lifeline from her high-pressure job. Matt’s maturation from a college student to a responsible adult are well explored. Finlay layers believable twists that lead “Every Last Fear” down several surprising roads.
“Every Last Fear” introduces a new talent — if only we knew his real identity.