“This isn’t an escape room.” (page 295)
Author: Megan Goldin
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Page Count: 368
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
The Escape Room is a novel that uses the escape room setting as a hook for a corporate thriller about corruption in the financial industry.
The escape room gimmick seems like a good opportunity to integrate puzzles into a mystery storyline, but readers intrigued by the title will likely be disappointed that The Escape Room is no more of a brainteaser than the average thriller novel.
The bleak setting, clichéd characters, and unrefined puzzles made the reading experience feel almost like being stuck in an elevator right along with these four unpleasant people.
If you’re an avid reader of thrillers with some time on your hands, you may decide it’s worth indulging your curiosity. But don’t be deceived by the title—at its core, The Escape Room isn’t really about an escape room at all. If you’re looking for engaging puzzles or an elegant mystery, don’t think twice about skipping this one.
Who is this for?
- Voracious readers who can’t get enough thrillers
- People who like seeing investment bankers suffer
- To find out who made it out alive
Four shady investment bankers from Stanhope and Sons were summoned to play an escape room as a team-building exercise. They got more than they bargained for when they were locked in an elevator together and forced to solve the mystery of why they were really there and what happened to their former colleague Sara Hall.
The puzzles are not a particular selling point for The Escape Room. It’s marketed as a thriller, with no particular emphasis on a game component except as part of the plot.
The story includes a handful of simple riddles and word puzzles, some of which must be solved with knowledge only the characters have. There is no interactivity or game structure to the puzzles—you can’t really solve along as you read.
➕ The concept of describing two timelines at once in alternating chapters made the reading experience more interesting. Guessing where the storylines converged was one of the more enjoyable things about the book.
➖ The writing style felt repetitive and clichéd. There were extravagant details about suits, ties, makeup, jewelry, gourmet food, and other accoutrements of wealth. All this description seemed like overkill, especially for a book that also emphasized the dangers of greed.
➖ The escape room itself wasn’t much like an actual escape room at all. The handful of puzzles had no structure or progression, so there was no game to play along with. Also, the escape room took place entirely in an elevator. This limitation put the immersion factor much lower than the recent Escape Room movie, for example. But the game aspect of The Escape Room also fell short of some of the incredible real-life escape rooms we’ve seen set in small spaces, such as The Basement’s Elevator Shaft, which made an elevator setting far more interesting and dramatic. Since a novel can have unlimited special effects, it would have been exciting to see a more innovative use of the escape room setting.
➖ Spending hundreds of pages stuck in an elevator with such despicable main characters made The Escape Room less fun than it could have been. The four investment bankers embodied variations on the standard greedy villain, with backstories that didn’t do much to give them emotional depth. If their characterization had provided more insight into how they felt rather than just what they wanted, the plot would have felt more like a robust narrative than a chess game.
➕/➖ Near the beginning, the characters’ interactions in the elevator scenes were amusingly reminiscent of bumbling escape room first-timers. But in later chapters, they easily made logic leaps that would be challenging for real-life players.
➖ The mystery structure felt haphazard and lacked the element of surprise. The pacing dragged, and the plot played out quite predictably. (The cover text even hints at the endgame.) The story could have benefited from some crafty red herrings, an aha moment where everything falls into place, or some form of redemption for any of the greedy, selfish characters.
❓The Escape Room is a book about how money and status corrupts, but it simultaneously implies that money can buy happiness. There is no middle ground, and both ends of the spectrum are portrayed as unenviable, with no way out. It was a bleak point of view.
➖ One character in The Escape Room was an autistic math genius who was repeatedly described as having “poor social skills” and dehumanized with descriptors like “robotic” and “otherworldly.” Beyond these harmful stereotypes, she was also treated badly by other characters, and her story was told largely through other people’s speculation about her motives. It was disappointing to see her treated like a plot device rather than a fleshed-out character with her own agency.
➕ The opening of The Escape Room teased a thrilling story of an escape game gone wrong. The excitement of that prologue made it clear that the escape room scenario could provide an intriguing hook for plenty more thriller novels in the future.
Tips For Reading
- The Escape Room is a quick, easy read that won’t provide too much of a challenge on a long flight or a lazy weekend.
- Be aware that the plot includes detailed descriptions of sexual assault and violent death.
- If you can’t figure out a puzzle, don’t beat yourself up. It’s probably just because you’re not a high-powered investment banker at Stanhope.
Buy your copy of The Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: St. Martin’s Press provided advance readers’ copies for review. Some details may change before publication.
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