CW: murder, missing person, cruelty against those in poverty
Final Girls is one of my all-time favorite thrillers. The Last Time I Lied was less exciting as a follow-up, though still entertaining. With a 2/2 track record, I could not miss Riley Sager’s 2019 release, Lock Every Door. I wasn’t quite confident enough to buy a copy outright this time around, but I should have been!
In the novel, Jules answers a vague ad for an apartment-sitting job. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend and needs a temporary place to stay. She’s also just lost her job and needs some quick money. But the gig turns out even better than she could have imagined: the apartment is a luxurious two-story place in the Bartholomew, famous for housing the rich and famous, and the pay is phenomenal. Jules can’t believe they’re even letting her through the door, much less willing to pay her to live in such a fancy place. Some of the rules are a little weird, but Jules moves in anyway. When one of the other apartment sitters goes missing though, Jules can’t deny that there might be more to the Bartholomew than meets the eye.
The bulk of this story takes place over six days, alternating between past and present narration; until the two meet, the past contains the meat of the story while the present serves as quick, tantalizing glimpses of the fallout to come. When the story lines merge, the narration spirals through several more climactic days before reaching its final conclusion.
” ‘I really don’t think this is a good idea,’ Nick says.
‘You said you wanted to help.’
The two of us are in the kitchen of 12A, standing shoulder to shoulder as we stare into the open dumbwaiter.”
After the initial introduction of characters and premise, it actually took me a while to warm up to this one. Sager does a lot of things right with Lock Every Door, but sadly he gives us a main character of the sort that appears in cheesy horror films, making obvious, life-threatening mistakes. Though Jules’s backstory and perspective are unusual and fascinating, her actions are frustratingly careless; it wasn’t until the plot picked up in the second half that I was able to fully invest in this story.
“Nick was right. This is not a good idea. I’m literally inside the walls of the Bartholomew. Any number of bad things could happen.”
But there is plenty to hold the reader’s attention in the meantime. First, the narration provides a wonderful set of creepy details to lend the proper atmosphere, including gargoyles perched around the building and an ancient dumbwaiter in Jules’s apartment; the narration doesn’t try too hard to force these elements into the plot (it bothers me when thriller/horror stories try to cram too many unrelated creepy elements into one plotline), but their presence keeps the reader alert and unsettled as any good thriller should. There’s also just enough suspicious activity surrounding the Bartholomew to keep the reader curious about what exactly is going on. Even Jules herself offers a distraction from her poor detective skills with an interesting exploration of what it’s like to be the one left behind in a Missing Person situation (or two), and how thoroughly the strain of poverty can break a family down. Though her specific situation is uncommon, her feelings of ordinariness and inadequacy occasionally come across as disturbingly relatable.
“I’m a dime a dozen, and everyone is looking for a quarter.”
By far the most compelling part of this novel is the mystery itself- the red herring, and the final solution. I thought it was superbly crafted; I caught all the key clues and still wasn’t quite able to solve the puzzle- the very best type of thriller experience! Furthermore, the themes behind the mystery are engaging and conducive to further thought, unlike the standard “girl finds herself running for her life from new lover / new lover’s ex” situations that really are a dime a dozen. Lock Every Door is a wild story, but (for me, at least) the concept is just plausible enough to leave me questioning the ways in which the wealthy and powerful might be abusing their levels of influence. It was almost convincing enough to allow me to overlook how very bothersome I found Jules. Almost.
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Though not quite on par with Final Girls (which somehow manages both to spoof the slasher thriller genre and also provide a captivating story that fits within it), I did find Lock Every Door a step up from The Last Time I Lied and am eager to see what Sager will come up with next. There’s no word of a fourth release yet, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out, and I might even look into buying my own copy of Lock Every Door for a future revisit. All in all, quite a success, and I think my luck with thrillers is really turning around this year!
The Literary Elephant