Review: Friends abused as teens are targeted for murder

“What Have We Done,” by Alex Finlay (Minotaur)

Five teenagers stood together in the dark and took turns firing a .22 caliber pistol into a shallow grave. Then they fell to their knees and swept dirt into it with their bare hands.

That’s how Alex Finlay’s “What Have We Done,” starts, but who they killed and why is not revealed until late in this suspenseful thriller. Twenty-five years later, all five appear to be successful. Donnie is a rock star. Nico is the executive producer of a reality TV show. Arty is a high tech millionaire. Benny is a judge. And Jenna recently retired from a career with a secretive government agency. But Donnie is an addict, Nico is a compulsive gambler, and all of them are haunted by their past, which the author gradually reveals in a series of flashbacks.

The five had become friends when they were residents of Savior House, a rural Chestertown, Pennsylvania, group home for homeless teenagers. It was, readers soon learn, a terrible place where they were both physically and psychologically abused. Worse, teenage girls frequently went missing from the home. The disappearances were explained as runaways, but they five suspected something evil was afoot.

The action begins when the judge is murdered. Then someone tries to kill Donnie by throwing him off of a cruise ship, and Nico is lured into a mine shaft and deliberately trapped in a cave-in. Both manage to escape, but before long, they and Jenna suspect that they are being targeted because of what they did at that long-ago grave. Together they make their way back to the now-abandoned group home to look for answers.

“What Have We Done” is the third novel by Alex Finlay, the pen name of a Washington, D.C. based novelist whose first two books have earned him a reputation for producing suspenseful, fast-paced thrillers. As usual, his characters are well drawn, his writing is tight and vivid, and he keeps readers guessing with a series of twists and red herrings all the way to his new yarn’s violent conclusion. ___

Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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