Thriller Thursday: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (July 30, 2019)
Length: 10 hrs and 44 mins
Ah, escape rooms. Popular for parties, family activities, and corporate outings to enhance team building and synergy. That’s what Sam, Jules, and Sylvie believed they were in for when each of them received an order from their team leader Vincent to show up for a late-night meeting at the request of their employer Stanhope. And at this high-powered financial company, one of the most prestigious and elite in the world, no one ever says no. So despite the high irregular time and location of the meeting, the four of them show up without question, all of them dropping their plans at the last minute to be there.
At first, the activities are everything they expected—mentally challenging and designed to make you work with others, but on the whole manageable. But then came the part with the elevator. In this highly immersive and realistic scenario, Vincent, Sam, Jules and Sylvie are trapped in the dark with only the light of a small monitor that gives them their next instructions. They have entered the Escape Room and they have figure out a way to escape the elevator before the time runs out. But here is when thing start to get a bit weird. The challenges they are given get a little too personal, the things they need to do get a little more disturbing. Rather than encourage them to work together, the room’s scenario appears designed to sow mistrust and put them at each other’s throats. As bitter grudges come to light, slowly the years of pressure at working in a demanding and cutthroat environment like Stanhope start to get to unravel their nerves. Soon, insults and confessions are flying, as damaging secrets and other scandals are unearthed and brought to light. Inevitably, one of their clues turn them towards the topic of Sara Hall, a former colleague who died years ago.
But what does any of this have to do with Sara? Nearly half the book is actually told from her point of view, set at an earlier time, telling the story of how she graduated at the top of her class at business school only to enter the workforce in the middle of the market crash. Practically no one is hiring, and those getting the jobs are the candidates with connections, of which Sara has none. But thanks to a stroke of luck, she manages to land a position at Stanhope, knowing that she’ll have to fight tooth and nail to earn her place and stay there. But of course, it’s an uphill battle for a single young woman in a workplace dominated by men, where the attitude is everyone for themselves. It also doesn’t help that Sara’s new supervisor Vincent is really hard on her, and her teammates Sam, Jules, and Sylvie are a bunch of pretentious, backstabbing sharks.
This is the premise of The Escape Room, and it’s a very powerful and enticing one. Because of the story’s structure, however, it does take a while for it get off the ground. For much of the first half, our characters are left quite literally in the dark, while we as the readers are just as clueless and confused as they are. Alternating between the present and the past, the narrative attempts to do multiple things at once, teasing the increasingly desperate situation unfolding in the elevator while also endeavoring to show us the culture and life at Stanhope via the flashback chapters told through Sara’s eyes. While these early sections were key in helping establish the setting and cement the tone of the story, admittedly this constant back and forth made for a slower intro.
The portrayal of the company and the people who work there was also a bit hokey, in my opinion. I once worked for a corporate headhunting firm in a big city, dealing with many of the kinds of people described in this novel from both the client and candidate side. Sure, there were the ambitious types, and the ones who thrived in that dog-eat-dog culture and had no problem running the rat race as long as it meant lots of money and the perks. And yes, there were the assholes. But Megan Goldin’s depiction of life at Stanhope felt way too exaggerated, sometimes even clichéd to the point of cartoonish. Practically every stereotype about the corporate world was dialed up to 11. It’s like she took everything she knew about the culture and its people from primetime TV dramas.
And then there was that ending. When it comes to thrillers, after a while you start to learn the art of suspending your disbelief and I’m cool with that. But the big revelation and the explanations for it were simply ridiculous. You pretty much had to throw out everything you thought you knew about the characters in order for it to work, and that just didn’t sit right with me. Not to mention the twist was so predictable, I had to wonder if the author felt the need to inflate things to such absurd levels just to keep things interesting.
Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly blown away by The Escape Room, but still, it wasn’t all bad. I listened to the audiobook, which helped move things along when things were a little sluggish at the beginning. The voice team made up of January LaVoy and Ramon De Ocampo was also fantastic, and I liked that they went with two narrators to keep the POV switches engaging and immersive. Overall, this wasn’t anywhere close to being the best thriller I’ve read so far this year, but I didn’t dislike it. I just thought it could have been so much more, but it was a decent entertainment regardless.