Title: Reprieve by James Han Mattson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical (90s), Horror
Length: 412 pages
Book Rating: C
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment.
On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.
Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.
An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.
Reprieve by James Han Mattson is an intriguing novel with an interesting storyline.
In 1997, John Forrester is the eccentric owner of a full contact house of horrors called Quigley House. The big draw to Quigley is the competition to win $60,000. Four contestants work together to advance through the various cells by collecting envelopes within the allotted time frame without yelling the safe word.
Following the death of her father, Kendra Brown moves with her mother to Nebraska. As one of the few Black students at her school, she feels out of place and unable to break into the cliques that have already formed. She secretly takes a job at Quigley House and forms an unexpected friendship with John and her co-workers. Kendra is pivotal in bringing in one of the contestants in the final, ill-fated competition.
Jaidee Charoensuk is a Korean student at the local university and he is struggling to fit in. He is a bit older but having learned about the United States through movies and tv shows, he has many misconceptions about relationships. Jaidee works hard to make good grades but he is not really in the US for an education. He is instead searching for the tutor he developed a crush on when he was a teenager. Through a strange series of events, Jaidee has connections to two of the other people on his team at Quigley House.
Reprieve features a thought-provoking yet convoluted plot. Through various points of view and court documents, a murder during one of the competitions unfolds in horrific detail. The characters are well-drawn but not all of them are likable. The pacing is somewhat slow until the four contestants begin working their way through the cells. Their battles through the cells is quite detailed but these scenes tend to drag somewhat. With stunning revelations, James Han Mattson brings the novel to a tragically sad conclusion.