Friday, May 17, 2024


END OF STORY by AJ Finn (Atlantic, 2024)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

"I'll be dead in three months. Come tell my story." This is the chilling invitation from Sebastian Trapp, renowned mystery novelist, to his long-time correspondent Nicky Hunter, an expert in detective fiction. Welcomed into his lavish San Francisco mansion, Nicky begins to unravel Trapp's life story under the watchful eyes of his enigmatic wife and plainspoken daughter.

But Sebastian Trapp is a mystery himself. And maybe - probably - a murderer. Two decades ago, his first wife and son vanished - the case never solved. Is the master of mystery playing a deadly game - and if so, who will be the loser? And when a body surfaces in the family's koi pond, they all realize the past isn't buried - it's waiting.

Six years ago, pseudonymous New York author and former book editor AJ Finn caught publishing lightning in a bottle with his heavily marketed-debut crime novel The Woman in the Window, a contemporary take on Hitchcockian tropes as an agoraphobic woman spies on her neighbours. 

Instant #1 New York Times bestseller; sold into 40+ countries, big-money film deal. 

A year later, the bottle shattered as a New Yorker profile exposed a litany of lies; was the acclaimed thriller author even more unreliable than his narrator? Finn went to ground, the star-studded film of his book fizzled, and plenty of readers and industry insiders said they’d never touch his work again.   

The question lingered, though: would the now-infamous author ever return? 

Finn answers that query with the very thrilling End of Story, which perhaps fittingly features a crime writer whose life is rife with rumour and internet gossip. Of a far more serious kind. Nicky Hunter is invited to renowned mystery novelist Sebastian Trapp’s San Francisco mansion where he lives with his second wife and adult daughter, to tell his life story and perhaps unravel a mystery or two.

Trapp is dying, his first wife and son vanished many years before, and he was a prime suspect.

Everyone has their secrets, but who is playing who? Especially when a body is found after a mansion party. Finn once again gives plenty of nods to giants of the genre, while creating a page-whirring narrative drive and setting readers up well for a fascinating denouement. And in a twist worthy of his forebears, Finn’s far-less-marketed second novel may read better than his massively (over?)hyped debut.

Worth a look. I enjoyed the read, and tore through it in a day. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, co-founder of Rotorua Noir festival, author of Macavity and HRF Keating Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology series, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

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