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Reprieve (2021)

by James Han Mattson

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272899,681 (3.3)11
"On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, "reprieve," they'll win a substantial cash prize... But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants. Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who's been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character's journey unfurls and overlaps, deceits and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed-forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.… (more)
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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
I was hoping I would like this….but honestly I just could not get into it. Cool premise though ( )
  ChaoticGoblin | Jan 23, 2024 |
There was so much about this that gave me a visceral reaction. I hated some of it, loved more.
This book is not a horror though. There are semi-scary bits, but it’s more about the horrors of social injustice. Read like that it’s definitely a 4 star. ( )
  Danielle.Desrochers | Oct 10, 2023 |
It's hard to say who this book is for, as it isn't straight horror, and it isn't straight lit fic. The premise of a full-contact haunted house/escape room experience sounds thrilling, but it takes up so little space in this book it is just a gruesome interstitial to the rest of the character story. There is a lot of social commentary on racism and sexism and homophobia. The goons in stage makeup meant to scare contestant at the house pale in comparison to the horrors of prejudice, making the scariest thing in the house the introduction of a scorned white man there to take revenge. ( )
  KallieGrace | Jun 8, 2023 |
I struggle with how to categorize this one. It's ostensibly about a murder that takes place in an extreme escape-room-type attraction, but it really supposed to be more about the characters involved. It reminds me a lot of the films of Jordan Peele, where, you know, at the end we realize the monster is us and that we're all living in the racial haunted house that is America.

While the characters were kind of interesting, however, the motivation for the murder as it's revealed makes no sense at all, and the ending doesn't really hang together with the big-picture thematic ideas about race and privilege that the author is trying to get across. ( )
  sansmerci | Dec 15, 2022 |
I would call this well-written novel an experiment in literary horror that trips over itself a bit in the last act. The story centers around an "extreme" haunted house attraction in Lincoln, Nebraska--the Quigley House--and is set in the late 1990s (the time is important). Contestants vie to make it through the house's cells and win a cash prize while being terrorized and even physically assaulted by the actors. From the outset, we know that something horrific has happened during one of these tours, and there is a trial going on as a result.

The three point-of-view characters all have ties to the house. Kendra is a teenage Black girl who moved to Nebraska with her mother to live with her aunt after her father died. She feels out of place there and gets a job at the Quigley House at the urging of her boyfriend back home, who is a horror fan. Jaidee is a young Thai man attending the University of Nebraska but really stalking his former English teacher, a white American man with whom he is in love. He ends up becoming a contestant at Quigley with his former English teacher as well as his college roommate (and Kendra's cousin), Bryan--don't worry, the book makes sense of this eventually. And Leonard is a white man who works at a Lincoln hotel and befriends the charismatic owner of Quigley House, John Forrester. Besides the house, each of these characters have other things in common: they feel isolated and lack belonging; they latch onto a love interest who likely isn't all that into them; and they make bad choices in the name of "love."

The Quigley house is really a metaphor for the horrorscape of modern American life, especially for people on the outside. Mattson makes this point in many different ways and from different viewpoints. Seeing Jaidee try and fail to become American is painful. Watching Leonard get twisted into a prototype incel is frightening. The scenes in the house itself are both exciting and shocking.

I think it kind of falls down at the end. It gets a bit too heavy-handed, too much on the nose. Maybe Mattson is trying to juggle too many themes at once. But by that time, we've already been through the ride, which I enjoyed. I appreciate it when writers try to do different things in the horror genre and when they use horror to shine a light on the horrors we all live with everyday. ( )
1 vote sturlington | Apr 7, 2022 |
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Witness: Cory Stout
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September 16, 1997
Q: When you got to Cell Five, what did you see?
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"On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, "reprieve," they'll win a substantial cash prize... But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants. Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who's been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character's journey unfurls and overlaps, deceits and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed-forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

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