Friday, August 2, 2019

Book Review: The Escape Room

By Jami Deise

Escape rooms have been a fad for awhile now. I did one a few years ago, and one was enough for me. I liked the concept more than the experience. But I appreciate the industry’s creativity in constantly creating new scenarios for the puzzles. As for me, I’d rather read a book.

Luckily, Australian novelist Megan Goldin has written a thriller that takes place in an escape room, and reading The Escape Room is definitely a more appealing option than doing an escape room. It’s a taut thriller that readers will want to gobble in a single gulp.

Goldin begins at the ending, letting readers know that something nearly indescribably horrible has happened in an elevator. Then she pulls back a few days to reveal that Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam – who all work together as a team at investment bank Stanhope under Vincent’s leadership – are on that elevator, which they believe is taking them to an escape room as part of a team-building exercise… an exercise that may lead to all or some of them getting fired. When the elevator stops suddenly in the shaft of an express chute, they realize that the elevator itself is their escape room… and whoever wrote the clues knows them intimately. And hates them passionately.

The elevator chapters alternate with the first-person account of Sara Hall, who tells readers how she joined Vincent’s team at Stanhope and what happened to her there. From a blue-collar background, with sick parents and plenty of debt, Sara is easy to root for even as she’s seduced by Stanhope in a manner reminiscent of the John Grisham classic The Firm. When Sylvie casually reveals near the beginning of the book that “Sara Hall died years ago,” it’s a hard blow for the reader.

The Escape Room is a terrific revenge fantasy, and anyone who has enemies will picture them trapped in an elevator and ruminate about the type of clues they should be forced to de-code. The book’s biggest appeal is also one of its drawbacks – because the four bankers are so horrible, the reader doesn’t care if they suffer; in fact, she wants to see it. Goldin makes a halfhearted attempt to soften them somewhat – an overbearing wife here; a divorce there – but these details actually heighten the characters’ lack of dimension rather than softening it. The authorial voice lacks sophistication, which makes the book easy to digest but adds to the characters’ superficiality.

While the book moves along at an impressive clip – years fly by in Sara’s telling while the reader braces herself for the protagonist’s death – it seems like Goldin ran out of space before she ran out of story. The ending devolves into a pages-long telling of how the escape-room plotter pulled off the elaborate game, which includes not just the elevator set-up, but additional machinations worthy of an Oceans Thirteen-type movie. I would have liked to see these games happen in real time, rather than reading a summary of them at the end, but others might feel that the action in the elevator was enough.

The Escape Room has been named one of the best beach reads of the summer by Bookbub and other media. With its claustrophobic location, it’s gripping no matter what time of year it’s read.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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