If you need a good reason to miss a few social functions in the next week or so, pick up Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Once you dive into this literary thriller, you may find yourself skipping all of your commitments—just so you can keep reading. It’s that good.
As a fan of thrillers and a lover of literary fiction, I was excited to read this book even though I had no odious commitments I needed to skip. I was not disappointed, as Pessl created a world that kept me off-kilter for the entire journey.
Never sure who was telling the truth, including the spectacularly unreliable narrator, I was pulled from scene to scene in a daze, not quite ready for what was around the corner. The writing had the effect of making the action hard to see, like an old black-and-white film noir, with details fading into the mist and off the periphery of the page. My brain scrambled to interpret each scene, and once it finally settled I was yanked away in another direction only to encounter dead ends and satisfying clues.
In this complex story, journalist Scott McGrath saw his career and marriage ruined by a libel lawsuit over comments he made about the reclusive horror-movie director Stanislas Cordova. Now the director’s daughter, a former piano prodigy, has died a suspicious death, one that is officially being labeled a suicide.
McGrath is drawn in by his hatred of Cordova and his desire to clear his name. As he attempts to learn the truth about the apparent suicide, he is pulled into an ever-deepening morass of maybe-clues and possible leads. Reality starts to become an elusive commodity as the lines between science and mysticism are increasingly blurred. McGrath finds himself in a shadow world, as frightening and unsettling as a Cordova movie, and seemingly just as controlled by the mysterious man.
Night Film is a book that builds such a strong and compelling world that it is hard to break free of its grasp. Both the slowly unraveling mystery and the complex, flawed characters who struggle to understand it creates a page-turning thriller so engrossing you will forget it’s fiction.
Will you encounter the occasional implausible jumps, discoveries, and coincidences that so often plague thrillers? Yes. Are there entirely too many italicized words? Absolutely. But if you are able to give the usual benefit of the doubt and suspend your disbelief, you will definitely be enthralled.
Becky Nesbitt freelances as an executive editor and reviewer. She lives in Nashville with her husband and three children.