three thriller reviews: lock every door, night film, eight perfect murders

lock every door

by riley sager

riley sager’s lock every door is one of the two thrillers published in 2019 that i constantly mistake for one another: the other is the turn of the key by ruth ware. i only confused them thanks to their similar covers, and the fact that both follow a woman secluded in an apartment/house they have to look after, only for their safety to be threatened by a terrifying force who wants to cause them harm.

i have yet to read ruth ware’s book, but i’m very much looking forward to it now, as i loved the isolation of the main character in lock every door. there’s an old money feel to the bartholomew, the apartment complex she moves in to, complete with mysterious dumbwaiters, an old elevator, and the eerie feeling of constantly being watched, no matter what you do. riley sager perfectly captures the ambience of such a place, and you desperately want jules to uncover what, exactly, is going on in the building.

my main issue with this book is predictability. it’s very easy to spot the signs earlier on in the book concerning why it’s jules being targeted, and where the story is going to go. it’s almost to the point of it being spoon fed to you, and the final twist wasn’t all that much of a surprise thanks to that. sager writes into cliches typical of the genre that are almost impossible to put aside to enjoy the plot as it unfolds.

while i enjoyed lock every door, it’s not all that original. it’s a quick read with an engaging main character and a wonderful setting, but i don’t think i would ever re-read it.

night film

by marisha pessl

in march, i took part in nightmare maven’s creepy book club read of night film, a 2013 mystery/thriller novel following a journalist who, ten years after tanking his career writing an exposé on a reclusive film director, returns to uncover the truth behind the tragic death of the film director’s daughter.

marisha pessl’s neverworld wake was one of my favourite reads of 2019, and while night film is just as readable in spite of being over 300 pages longer, it didn’t quite live up to neverworld wake.

the cast at the centre of this mystery is compelling: there’s our journalist, scott mcgrath, obsessive and driven to uncover the truth; nora halliday, a young aspiring actress recently moved to the city who joins mcgrath on his search; and hopper, mysterious and aloof, who begrudgingly accompanies the other two in finding out what happened to ashley cordova. each of them is distinct in their personality without becoming a stereotype of what they represent in this genre, and one of the best parts of the book is reading their interactions and the conflicts that arise from their pasts that interfere with the investigation.

marisha pessl is also incredible at writing not just scenes of suspense, but ones of horror, too. the opening image of a woman in red made my skin crawl, and it has the same effect each time it returns throughout. her descriptions of cordova’s films and certain moments of threat leave you sick to your stomach. i would love to see pessl write a book that is solely horror, as i think she would do an incredible job, especially if she utilises mixed-media inserts like she does in night film.

where this book ultimately failed me was in its ending. i won’t spoil it, because i genuinely think this is a book that so many people could enjoy, and probably love the ending of, too. it just felt like a betrayal of a certain character’s growth, which left me confused as to what the message of the narrative was supposed to be.

i think marisha pessl enjoys writing divisive endings, and a lot of people in the book club loved the ending, so i think i just fall unfortunately on the side of people the ending missed the mark with.

still, i really do think this is a creepy mystery, with pessl doing something new and wholly original that i really wish more writers would take inspiration from when they claim to write something ‘new’ but just reiterate the same thing we’ve seen time and time again in the genre.

rules for perfect murders

by peter swanson

do you see what i did at the end of my night film review? that was me directly calling out peter swanson for… this.

it may come across as harsh, but peter swanson’s rules for perfect murders– or eight perfect murders, which was the title of the kindle copy i read, but apparently changes depending on the country you’re from. i don’t understand it, but that’s publishing for you– is nothing original. from the blurb, you expect something fresh, exciting: the concept of real murders mimicking fictional ones is a trope i love, and yet peter swanson managed to bore me.

what really lets this book down is that it’s all tell. ‘i did this, i did that, i will do this’, and barely any reasoning behind why. he’s so passive! malcolm kershaw, our main character, is so unbelievably boring in spite of everything that is going on around him. he’s plain, the textbook main character, so unbelievably predictable that it was no surprise to me when i found out this is the intended first book in a crime series. it really doesn’t help that not a single twist in this surprised me, and there are many.

as is a constant in half the books i read and dislike, swanson also can’t write women for shit. the amount of women who are interested in malcolm… and for what? what is there to him? he’s just another self-insert of an author who most women probably wouldn’t even notice, no offence, and every woman is a plain jane damsel who needs a man to look after them. booooring!

this just really isn’t for me, and, honestly? i think i’m going to focus on reading thrillers and mysteries by people who aren’t white cishet men, because they always seem to let me down.


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