The Night Shift
Grade : A-

The Night Shift is a prequel to Alex Finlay’s stunning 2021 release Every Last Fear. In this volume, we meet Special Agent Sarah Keller while she is still a crime scene agent, before her transfer to the financial crimes unit where she has her amazing adventure with Matt Pine.

It’s a night of celebration - and fear. New Year’s Eve 1999, they say, might just be the start of the apocalypse. Will planes fall from the skies? Will all our machines fail us? That’s not really on the minds of the four teenage girls working the night shift at a New Jersey  Blockbuster Video. They’re just anxious for ten o’clock to arrive so they can head out to their own parties. Only that’s not what happens when closing time rolls around. That moment brings a man, a knife, and a blood bath which leaves only one survivor.

Fifteen years later, Ella Monroe receives a late-night call. There’s a teenage girl - Jesse -  in need of counseling expertise that only Ella can offer. Jesse is the sole survivor of an attack at an ice cream parlor where all the workers were killed by a man wielding a knife. As the lone survivor of the last such attack in New Jersey, Ella can extend Jesse advice and comfort that she alone is uniquely suited to give.

Special Agent Sarah Keller is weeks away from maternity leave when she receives the early morning call to aid in the investigation of a slaughter at an ice cream shop. Typically the FBI wouldn’t be involved, but the event bears an eerie similarity to a crime that occurred at a Blockbuster Video fifteen years earlier and the Bureau has an outstanding warrant for the suspect related to those murders. Sarah heads out to Linden, NJ to offer what help she can to the local police.

Which isn’t much. The lead detective isn’t interested in Sarah’s assistance and gives her the assignment of pursuing the unlikely possibility that the original suspect, Vince Whitaker, is once more in the area and killing again. He also foists newbie investigator Atticus Singh on her. Sarah and Atticus doggedly head out to retrace the steps of the initial inquiry, but Sarah has no intention of simply pursuing Vince - she plans to take a thorough look at what happened all those years ago and probe into whether the police actually did their jobs or simply found a scapegoat in a teenager from a bad home.

Chris Ford was once Chris Whitaker, an abused boy whose only defender, his older brother Vince, was accused of a heinous crime and disappeared shortly thereafter. The only good thing to come out of Vince’s problems with law enforcement was that the maltreatment that both boys were experiencing was revealed and Chris was placed with a set of foster parents, kind and generous people who eventually adopted him. Chris became a public defender so he could help people like his brother, poor folks wrongly accused. He has always believed Vince was innocent - based on the most probable timeline of the crime, his brother had been at home cooking them dinner when the murders occurred. When Chris learns of the attack at the ice cream shop, he is shaken to his core. He’s been following a travel vlogger whom he’s convinced is Vince. A vlogger who just happens to be back in the New Jersey area after years spent abroad. Is his brother back? Does the carnage at the ice creamery mean he was the Blockbuster murderer and is now killing again?

This is a classic whodunit with mildly flawed good guys, nuanced villains, and one horrible baddie. One of the problems in reviewing mysteries is that the heart of the story lies in the author’s ability to manipulate each puzzle piece to make us desperate to get to the next piece, and in order for each of us to have the same experience, one of us can’t tell the others what the pieces are. So I am not going to reveal much here. I will say this is a fast-paced character-driven story that takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride through the intricacies of crime-solving. The author does a terrific job of looking at the events from almost every aspect - the victims, their friends and family, the family and friends of the suspect, the people investigating - we don’t get villain viewpoint but we do see how that person’s actions affect everyone around them. This allows us as readers to see the crime holistically and realize just how each small action/choice made by each individual leads to the near-inevitable climax - and how one small change could have led to better results for all.

Finlay does an equally terrific job of creating compelling characters. Each one is beautifully drawn, intricate, and rich in detail. The internally vulnerable, outwardly tough Jesse; the meticulous, cautious, caring Sarah; the damaged but resilient and feisty Ella; sweet, innocent Atticus, - I could list everyone because even the most secondary of characters receives sufficient detail for us to know who they are and why they behave the way they do.

These resonant characterizations had me deeply invested in what happened to almost everyone I encountered. Sarah, of course, as the main protagonist, draws the bulk of our empathy. She is a level-headed, no-nonsense individual without an ego. She is happy to take a back seat to the lead investigator but she also is still thorough in doing her job. It is her eye for detail that ultimately solves the crimes.

Ella is clearly still damaged from what happened fifteen years ago. She hasn’t let that keep her from living a full, productive life, but she has let it keep her from building any new, meaningful relationships. I liked that the horrific events at the ice cream shop make her re-examine her survivors’ guilt and take steps forward in living more fully.

Jesse is young, brash, hotheaded, and stubborn - all traits that enable her to thrive in the midst of the chaos of her young life. I liked how she was bolder and more take charge than the original victims, something which also helped in the resolution of the crime.

The book does have some flaws. Sarah’s pregnancy is actually rather laughable - a woman eight months pregnant with twins isn’t going to be charging around solving crimes or running anywhere. It’s obvious one of our secondary characters is being prepped like a lamb for the slaughter – they’re just far too lovable. The big secret which instigated the Blockbuster murder would probably have come out sooner - I think the parents would have been the sort to hassle that poor girl till she talked. There were also others involved who probably would have spoken out.

Those quibbles aside The Night Shift is an excellent mystery that I think will appeal to fans of that genre.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : A-
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: N/A

Review Date : March 2, 2022

Publication Date: 03/2022

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Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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