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The Book Nook


July 11, 2019

Mulitmedia Thriller

Readers who enjoy suspense and scary moments will find a worthwhile read in “Night Film”, by Marisha Pessl.

The author gained attention in 2006 when her debut novel “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” was published. It received positive comments from nearly every reviewer, made the New York Times bestseller list and was translated into 30 languages. “Night Films” came out in 2013 and was also on the New York Times bestseller list.

This is a dark psychological thriller that, like Pessl’s first book, showcases the author’s cinematic knowledge. The story is set in the modern world and is permeated by a Gothic feel. What makes it different is the use of mixed media. Some chapters are strictly prose while others contain fake Internet pages, typed police and medical reports, old photos that have been touched-up and other items. These lends a semi-documentary feel to an account that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.

For example, the first chapter is prefaced with a quote. Nothing unusual there. While fact-checking I found that Pessl quoted the same person in a lecture she gave in North Carolina. Again, not unusual except for the fact that the quote came not from a real person but one of her “Night Film” characters. This sleight of hand pervades the book and there’s enough of a mix of real and imagined characters and events to cause readers to tease out truth from fiction.

The story opens with journalistic reporter Scott McGrath jogging near Central Park’s Reservoir late at night. Is a woman he notices acting strangely or did he have too much to drink? When he’s later told a young woman named Ashley Cordova was found dead, he’s convinced she was the woman in the park and she was trying to tell him something.

Ashley’s father is Stanislas Cordova, a director of films so psychologically disturbing that studio executives have forever distanced themselves from the man. His work is so compelling that it’s spawned a secret cult following of his “night films” with underground showings available only if you can find and follow obscure clues.

A past rift between the two men ended badly for the reporter, who is still reeling from the outcome. The news of Ashley’s death stirs up this ugly past and Scott can’t let it go. Believing Ashley was a victim of murder, he visits the scene of her death and finds a man who also thinks the death was suspicious.

Scott believes the mysterious man knows more than he’s revealing and they’re soon joined by an aspiring actor who is determined to be part of their investigation. The trio embarks on a strange journey down rabbit holes and dark alleys in search of the truth.

One roadblock is that Cordova is a wealthy recluse who hasn’t been seen in public for years, which only adds to his cult mystique. Surrounding him are layers of protection to penetrate, puzzles to unravel and secrets to discover and interpret. The trio will find obstacles in every path, some merely unusual and some that are outright bizarre. They push on in spite of dead ends, internal demons and weird events that leads to a strange ending.

There were a few things I wish were different about the book. It was a well-told story, but a bit long. I also felt there were too many “fake-outs” in the final dozen chapters before a somewhat anti-climactic ending. If Pessl intended to mimic Cordova’s movie endings, with his tendency to avoid resolution when the curtain dropped, she succeeded.

On the likeable side were the author’s obvious love of film. There were passages and imagery that were reminiscent of true-life directors of psychological thrillers such as David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock. There were numerous plot twists, a few too conveniently timed to be believed and some that added to the horror. The author’s inclusion of two-page chapters similar to James’ Patterson’s style ramped up the pace nicely.

After the story the author’s notes direct you to an app that enables you to embark on an Easter Egg hunt. Easter Eggs are jokes, references, images and other items etc. hidden in movies, games, DVD, television shows, etc. They can be found if you know what to look for and where. I have a feeling the melding of fact and fiction and a multi-media approach to storytelling will gain popularity as we move through a technology-saturated world.

For those interested in just a scary tale, this is a decent summer read. Pessl obviously cared about creating an atmospheric story with several delicious shudders throughout the story and the long daylight hours may offset the creepy chills you’ll find here.


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