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If Something Happens to Me by Alex Finlay - Review

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Alex Finlay


If Something Happens to Me Review

The current popularity of true crime podcasts has caught the attention of thriller writers. Many of these writers now structure their books with a true crime podcast hook. Introduce readers to a bizarre, sensational crime early, then turn the characters loose to get to the bottom of things. As with true crime podcasts in general, the quality of these thrillers varies. However, Alex Finlay has nailed the formula in his gripping novel, If Something Happens to Me. (A podcaster even briefly appears in the story and discovers a crucial piece of evidence.) Finlay effortlessly juggles points of view among a half dozen or more characters with action stretching over four countries on two continents. The result is a terrific mystery and thrill ride for genre fans.

If Something Happens to Me starts with a bang in a prologue set five years before the book's primary action. Two teenagers are doing what teenagers often do late at

night at the local Lovers’ Lane in Leavenworth, KS. Their encounter is interrupted when someone pulls Ryan Richardson from his girlfriend’s car and clunks him over the head. When he wakes up the following day, the car and his girlfriend Alison Lane have vanished without a trace. Ryan becomes the police’s prime suspect in Alison’s disappearance until DNA evidence implicates a subsequently captured serial killer dubbed MRK (Missouri River Killer). To avoid further notoriety, Ryan changes his last name, attends Georgetown Law School, and later goes on a class break trip with some of his schoolmates to Italy. However, his vacation is interrupted when he receives a mysterious note saying, “I need to see you… I know who you are.” Soon after, he sees a man he is convinced was the assailant who dragged him from Alison’s car five years earlier.

Back in Leavenworth, the authorities have closed Alison’s case, blaming MRK for her abduction and presumed murder. That presumption is upended when an enterprising podcaster discovers her car at the bottom of nearby Suncatcher Lake. Alison’s body isn’t inside, but two dead men are sitting in the front seats. Newly hired deputy sheriff Poppy McGee, who was two years behind Alison and Ryan in high school, assumes control of the case. She later learns one of the dead men in Alison’s car is an unsavory mob character from Philadelphia. When further analysis reveals the hair found at MRK’s location earlier was planted, the case again becomes a national sensation.

Most of If Something Happens to Me details Ryan and Poppy’s twin investigations, separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Ryan traces his presumed assailant to rural England, where he makes a shocking discovery. Meanwhile, Poppy learns the official records in Alison’s case are highly meager for that notorious a case. Despite her youth, Poppy has a knack for detective work; her now-retired father was one of the original investigators on the case. She epitomizes a crime fiction staple: the unconventional but surprisingly adept cop. (I can imagine a young Holly Hunter as Poppy.) Meanwhile, Ryan is another archetype, the well-meaning amateur who repeatedly bulls his way into and out of trouble. The book has some good action and suspense sequences, most of which involve Ryan.

Despite these action scenes, If Something Happens to Me is primarily a mystery and a good one. Ryan and Poppy spend much of the book trying to figure out what happened to Alison and who killed the men in the car (as well as a few other corpses that show up later in the story). A major plot twist halfway through the story will upend many readers’ assumptions (I didn’t see this one coming), and a later, third-act twist I did predict. There’s even an old-fashioned coded message left by Alison the night she disappeared (with the words “if something happens to me” on the envelope). When the authorities find the still-intact message in a watertight compact in Alison’s purse in the submerged car, it provides Ryan with an essential clue for his investigation. (Unfortunately, any would-be Sherlock Holmes reading the book won’t be able to decipher the code on their own.)

All thrillers rely on coincidences, but If Something Happens to Me has more than its share that don’t pass muster even on a first reading. The book also has some attempted cash payoffs toward the end that play out like something out of a mediocre TV cop show. But the story as a whole holds up well. That’s largely because of the author’s skillful switching of locales and points of view from one brief chapter to the next. He helps the audience by adding a geographic tagline (“Leavenworth, Kansas”) at the start of any chapter in which the story’s location changes. Although the book has over a dozen significant characters, I rarely had difficulty following those involved in the story at any time. Poppy and Ryan make terrific, unlikely protagonists, but even the book’s villains are given some understandable motivations for their actions. 

If Something Happens to Me is the first Alex Finlay novel I’ve read. I was very impressed with the storyline, the characterizations, and the skillful way he handled plot developments and twists. The author has written several other thrillers, and I hope nothing happens to me before I can read them.    

NOTE: The publisher graciously provided me with a copy of this book through NetGalley. However, the decision to review the book and the contents of this review are entirely my own.

Watch the trailer for If Something Happens to Me:

Alex Finlay has been hailed as "one of the genre's most exciting voices" (E! News) who has “earned a reputation for producing suspenseful, fast-paced thrillers” (Associated Press). His novels include the 2021 breakout, Every Last Fear, the 2022 Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Mystery & Thriller, The Night Shift, and the 2023 LibraryReads Hall of Fame recipient, What Have We Done.  His work has been an Indie Next pick, a LibraryReads selection, an Amazon Editor’s Best Thriller, and regularly appears on "best of the year" lists. Alex’s books have been translated into twenty-four languages and are sold around the world.  All of his novels have been optioned for film and television, and Every Last Fear is in development for a major limited series.  


Alex writes under a pen name and is a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer who has represented clients in more than 40 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Buy Alex Finlay's books on Amazon:

What Have We Done Cover
NIght Shift Cover
Every Last Fear Cover

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