Finlay Donovan, single mum and floundering crime writer, is having a hard time. Her ex-husband went behind her back to fire the nanny, and this morning she sent her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an unfortunate incident with scissors.
Making it to lunch with her literary agent is a minor victory but, as she’s discussing the plot of her latest crime novel, the conversation is misinterpreted by a woman sitting nearby as that of a hit-woman offering her services to dispose of a ‘problem’ husband.
And when the woman slips Finlay a name and a promise of a large sum of cash, Finlay finds herself plotting something much bigger than her novel..
‘Finlay Donovan Is Killing It’ has been lurking in my TBR pile for just over a year, long enough for the second book in the series to be published. I bought it because the cover looked fun and the premise offered a light read that I might need one day. My reading this week had an ‘Assassin’ theme. I finished my two books, both dark and filled with violence, earlier than expected so I reached for ‘Finlay Donovan Is Killing It’ to provide some light relief while staying on theme.
Humour is a funny thing. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s just annoying. For the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure that ‘Finlay Donovan Is Killing It’ was going to work for me. They were a bit woe is me pity-partyish. OK, Finlay Donovan’s life had fallen apart, her ex-husband was a jerk, she was broke, late in writing a novel that she’d received an advance for and struggling to bring up two young children alone. Despite this, she wasn’t hitting my empathy button. Instead, she was irritating me. Did she have to be so hapless? Could she not plan rather than just hide? So the humour in the chapters felt a bit whiny to me.
This was, I should have realised, a set-up.
It turned out that Elle Cosimano knew exactly what she was doing when she built Finlay’s character. I became fascinated by Finlay’s chaotic, stumbling into ever deeper trouble. Her refusal to take control of her life or to think beyond the next five minutes, which initially irritated me, became central to the mechanics of the story. I still didn’t feel much empathy for Finlay but her progress from harassed and helpless single mom through accidental assassin to a woman working with a friend to stay a step ahead of the police and out of the clutches of life-threatening, revenge-seeking gangsters was like watching someone fall through the branches of a very tall tree, you have to see how they land and, even if you don’t know them, you end up hoping that they’ll survive the fall unharmed.
The plot powers the book. Things kept getting worse and I kept turning the pages to find out how/if Finlay would get out of this ever more complex mess.
The tone succeeds at being light without being fluffy or bland. There are bad people in the book. The threats to Finlay are real and immediate and the pressure on her to kill her way out of trouble is constant. What makes it work is that Finlay’s travails do two things, they show how she came to be at a point in her life where she felt alone and overwhelmed and, as she faces up to the unexpected and the difficult, we see her getting stronger while remaining fundamentally decent.
Inevitably, there’s a romance element in the book, with recently-divorced, low-self-esteem, Finlay becoming an object of desire for a charming, handsome, sensitive young bartender and hot, focused, and potentially threatening Police detective. This was handled better than I thought it might be. There were no Romance-Writers-Of-America-Checklist sex scenes and Finlay didn’t redefine herself based on how either man saw her. Both men had roles in moving the plot forward and dealing with them helped Finlay see herself more clearly.
I liked that Finlay didn’t do everything by herself. Early in the book, she forms, albeit almost accidentally, an alliance with another woman who, by the end of the book, has become a friend. Having them face Finlay’s problems together made the plot more plausible, made exposition easier and made Finlay easier to like.
I had a good time with the book. The plot kept me hooked and Finlay kept me amused. I’ll be back for the next episode, ‘Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead’.
I recommend the audiobook version of ‘Finlay Donovan Is Killing It’. Angela Dawe does a great job of bringing the characters alive and keeping the tone light. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
Elle Cosimano is an American writer based out of Virginia.
Her novels for young adult include Nearly Gone, Holding Smoke, The Suffering Tree, and Seasons of the Storm.
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It (2021) kicked off a witty, fast-paced contemporary mystery series. The second book in the series, Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead was published in February 2022.