Kate’s Review: “The Night Shift”

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Book: “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat |Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in Linden, New Jersey, four teenage girls working the night shift are attacked. Only one survives. Police quickly identify a suspect who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, in the same town, four teenage employees working late at an ice cream store are attacked, and again only one makes it out alive. Both surviving victims recall the killer speaking only a few final words… “Goodnight, pretty girl.”

In the aftermath, three lives intersect: the survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive her tragedy; the brother of the original suspect, who’s convinced the police have it wrong; and the FBI agent, who’s determined to solve both cases. On a collision course toward the truth, all three lives will forever be changed, and not everyone will make it out alive.

Twisty, poignant, and redemptive, The Night Shift is a story about the legacy of trauma and how the broken can come out on the other side, and it solidifies Alex Finlay as one of the new leading voices in the world of thrillers.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

On paper, “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay was complete and utter catnip for me. There’s a time jumping mystery, there’s a whodunnit murder element, there are multiple characters who may or may not have secrets, and there is a healthy does of 90s nostalgia. I remember that going to Blockbuster on Friday night was an EVENT! I also saw all the hype surrounding this book, so I jumped in really hoping for a home run. And we didn’t quite get there.

There were, however, things to like, and I will start there because I do want to highlight the positives. For one, we have a pretty well thought out and well connected story, told through the perspectives of interconnected characters. The first is Ella, a therapist who was the sole survivor of a multiple murder at her high school workplace, Blockbuster, in which her coworkers were killed and she was not. The second is Chris, a public defender whose brother Vince was the main suspect in the Blockbuster murders, but disappeared off the grid after he was released from custody before he could be tried for the crime. The third is Special Agent Keller, an FBI agent who is trying to connect a new multiple murder scene at an ice cream shop to the Blockbuster murders, as there is, once again, one survivor named Jess, and the perpetrator said the same phrase to her as he said to Ella. I liked how these three characters were separate at first, and then slowly converged into the big story and overarching mystery as they are trying to handle their own baggage and mysteries, and it really kept me engaged and interested as I read. I especially liked Keller’s POV, as she is determined and gritty and had the scenes that I found myself most invested in, since she was doing a lot of the investigating that felt like it was getting somewhere (I have more to say on Ella and Chris in a bit). AND she is doing all of this while eight months pregnant with twins, which was kind of a fun tidbit and felt very Marge Gunderson from “Fargo” (especially since her husband is SUPER doting, much like Norm was in that movie).

Speaking of couples goals. (source)

But that kind of segues into the things that didn’t work for me as much in this book. Firstly, many of the other characters outside of Keller felt pretty two dimensional and not super explored. Ella is a pretty typical and standard examination of trauma, in that she has devoted her life to trying to cope by compartmentalizing, and has completely messed up her personal life because of it (when we meet her she is meeting up for a hook up in spite of the fact she has a fiancé, because wow look at what a mess she is, right?!). Her connection with Jess, the newest victim, is based of her skills as a therapist as well as the fact she’s been there before, but Jess is tragic and precocious and hiding her own issues that only serve to muddy some waters. Since we don’t really get into her head she is, once again, pretty standard fare that we’ve seen before. And then there’s Chris, whose story is tragic in its own ways as he clings to the hope that his brother Vince is innocent, and has been thinking he has perhaps found him via the Internet. This was, admittedly, an interesting plot line, but Chris himself is also pretty two dimensional. And on top of all of that, the mystery itself becomes glaringly obvious in terms of conclusion pretty quickly. There were a few ‘mini’ mysteries here and there that kept me kinda guessing and invested, hence the engaging aspect of this book, but the big one wasn’t shocking, and the journey getting there on that outcome alone wouldn’t have been as compelling. And frankly, the big mystery should be compelling.

I think that I will go back and read Finlay’s previous book, as there is definitely potential in “The Night Shift” that has glimmers of a thriller I’d enjoy. But as a final product and full package it was a little ho hum.

Rating 6: Admittedly super engaging, but the big reveal isn’t very surprising, and most of the characters are pretty two dimensional.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Shift” is included on the Goodreads list “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2022”.

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