Apologies if you are not interested in my how-I-came-to-read-this stories. The entire backstory is here, which contains a link pointing to an article claiming the author, Alex Finlay, as one of the "15 Best Debut Authors of 2021". And this book in particular: "From the very first page to the last its [sic] a perfect spine chiller that grabs you and don’t let you go."
Based on the strength of that recommendation, I bought (at a bargain price), Finlay's second book, The Night Shift, which I liked OK, except for finding it a little heavy on the Dickensian coincidence.
So I (eventually) got this debut novel, and was kind of disappointed, especially after all that hype.
The main protagonist is Matt Pine, an NYU film student. Who gets some devastating news: most of his immediate family have met their demise in Mexico: his mom and dad, his sister who was about to enroll at MIT, and six-year-old brother. (That's pretty dark.) The only surviving member is his older brother, Evan. Who was (relatively) safe in prison, having been convicted of the gruesome murder of his (pregnant) high school sweetie years before.
The latest deaths are ruled accidental, but come on.
Matt soon suspects he might be in danger as well, one clue being that he's pushed into oncoming traffic by a mysterious figure with a cleft lip. That does not deter him from… well, actually, he's kind of a passive, not particularly likeable, doofus. He gets interrogated by an FBI agent who's investigating the shady company his dad used to work for. (Could they be involved?) He goes off to Mexico to implore the authorities to release the bodies. (Which it turns out would happened anyway, without his intervention.) Then it's off to small-town Nebraska for the mass funeral. Every step holds peril for him, which he evades by running away.
Red herrings abound. They did not stop me from fingering the actual string-pulling villain about halfway through.
The prose is lackluster and padded, full of pointless detail. Wainscotting? Who cares? Going out for Runza in Nebraska? Yes, I get it, Mr. Finlay: you've been there.
"A small eternity passed…". I wasted way too much time thinking if that could possibly mean anything other than "Look at me, I'm writing here."