Double check the deadbolt: A critical review of “Lock Every Door” (2019)

The first thing one is liable to notice about the novel “Lock Every Door” is that its cover is pink. Not pacific dove pink or cotton candy spun pink, but aggressive pink, the kind of pink that will shove you into a wall and take your lunch money. Which is odd because it’s not a very pink book. But maybe that’s fitting, because between those pink covers is a novel that cannot make up its mind.

Our protagonist, Jules Larsen, has just picked up every New Yorker’s dream job: getting paid to live in the Bartholomew, a historic high-rise in the middle of Manhattan, where she can get spectacular views of Central Park and rub shoulders with the city’s quietly rich and famous. But when some of her fellow apartment sitters disappear, Jules starts investigating the building’s haunted history. The more she looks, the more she realizes her dream job is a waking nightmare.

Author Riley Sager put “To Ira Levin” on the dedication page, but once the story’s underway, he can’t decide if he wants the book to be “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Sliver” or even “The Boys From Brazil” (have fun untangling that, thriller fans!). Homage is one thing. Identity crisis is another thing altogether.

Part of the problem is that the book telegraphs a lot of things, and I don’t even mean the twist. I mean the moods of the narrator. Jules spells every single thing out to the point where I felt like the book was talking down to me. She repeatedly interprets things from a passive perspective–and then she comments on how passive she is. I get it. The world excludes her and is unforgiving, and she’s a weak and worthless person.

Except she doesn’t act weak and worthless. Far from it, she acts like a junior detective, going right up to strangers–who she’s been told not to talk to–and talks to them rather rudely about the building’s occult and bloody past. For someone who thinks she’s so out of place in the building, let alone believes she’s in a strange and dangerous situation, she sure behaves entitled.

And the twist? I shouldn’t say too much, but I will say this. The novel started with a decent amount of thriller intrigue. But when the twist arrived, it wasn’t that it was stupid, but it was a much more pedestrian twist than I expected, especially compared to the intrigue that built up to it. If given the choice between intriguing build up and a pedestrian twist, I will usually choose the intrigue thank you.

Also, the ultimately revealed villain is about as deep as a Saturday morning cartoon character, over-the-top in villainy yet curiously without presence. The motivations behind the disappearances aren’t quite as bad as “just because,” but they’re only a step or two away.

The novel is definitely readable, and the prose is pretty tidy, although there are a couple of spots that the editor seems to have missed. And, not to nitpick, but I liked Jules’s father’s clever platitudes until it dawned on me that they were paraphrases of other writers, like William Shakespeare and Ian Fleming. I like Shakespeare and Fleming, so I don’t know why that disappointed me. Maybe it just came across as more narrative uncertainty.

In fact, while we’re at it, what’s up with the title? I mean, yes, the book has doors in it. Some of them are even locked. But every one? Not even close.

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