“The Escape Room” by Megan Goldin is a story of greed, mistrust, and revenge. It opens with a frightening event. A security guard calls 911 on an icy Sunday morning because he hears the unmistakable sound of gunshots. “He’d never seen so much blood in all his life.”
The scene shifts to thirty-four hours earlier. Sylvie, Sam, and Jules are part of Vincent’s crack multi-disciplinary team at a prominent Wall Street firm, and the four are in the elevator on their way to a “mandatory” meeting late Friday. The elevator stops, and the doors do not open despite frantic pushing of every button. Then the message is revealed.
“Welcome to the Escape Room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.”
Vincent calmly asks, “Who here has done an escape-room challenge before? It will take an hour.” Some of the group had done escape room activities with disappointing resists, leading to “fake” deaths, and no one seems ready to play. They are in an elevator, sterile, spotless, and empty. However, they just have to make it for an hour or, in the worst-case scenario, until Monday morning when they will be found cranky but alive and well. After all, how much trouble can four investment bankers get into in a locked elevator?
They find the first clue; “Dead but not forgotten. ASLHARLA.”
Chapters alternate between the current scene in the elevator and a first person present-tense narrative by Sara Hall. Her time-frame is not defined, but she is just out of college and applying for Wall Street jobs with little, if any, luck.
In the elevator, the significance of the first clue becomes clear. “If you rearrange those letters,” Jules explains, “It spells out Sara Hall. Dead but not forgotten. Sara Hall. It fits, right?” Sara now becomes much more interesting to readers. In Sara’s narrative, Vincent offers her a job, and she embraces it all with the unbridled enthusiasm of the young and ambitious.
Back in the elevator, the group finds another clue and deciphers the name that goes with it, also someone no longer with the firm. As more and more time passes, tensions mount, secrets are revealed, and nastiness breeds nastiness. In the dark, suffocating world of the stalled elevator, the rules are different. Then, the group makes a frightening discovery; someone has a Glock, and it is loaded.
Goldin’s use of alternating voices enhances the tension and suspense. Those in the elevator are not the only ones with cryptic clues to decipher. Readers know Sara is “Dead but not forgotten,” but are wondering not only what will happen in the elevator, but also how everyone got into that situation, not to mention happened to Sara. Of course, lurking in the background is all that blood in the opening.
“The Escape Room” is a non-stop story of power and ambition. To quote Sam, “There are winners and losers in this world…Success is not for the squeamish.” Some participants are smart; some think they are smart, and some are very stupid. Readers are left to sort it all out. I received a copy of “Escape Room” from Megan Goldin and St. Martin’s Press. Surprising secrets are revealed page by page. Readers will not be able to put this book down until the shocking end.
(Oh, and may never ride in an elevator again – ever.)