Reprieve A novel

James Han Mattson

Book - 2021

"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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FICTION/Mattson, James
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Subjects
Genres
Psychological fiction
Horror fiction
Published
New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
406 pages : 22 cm
ISBN
9780063079915
0063079917
9780063079922
0063079925
Main Author
James Han Mattson (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Mattson (The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves, 2017) presents a brilliant hybrid, a thought-provoking look at marginalization and systemic oppression expertly nestled inside a high-anxiety tale about the horror industry itself. Readers enter at the end of the nightmare, at a 1997 murder trial in Lincoln, Nebraska. The crime happened in Quigley House, an infamous, full-contact haunted house attraction, when a team of four contestants attempted to win thousands of dollars. After each interlude of court documents or descriptions of that evening, the story moves to longer, more character-driven chapters, where three of the key players in this large cast—Kendra, a Black teenager new to Nebraska, Jaidee, a gay Thai college student, and Leonard, a local hotel manager—tell their stories, including the months leading up to the fateful night. Severely unsettling at every turn, the book alternates the unrelenting tension of "the real world" with the in-your-face terror of the haunt, meaning there is no reprieve from the fear. This is a rare treat of a novel that will be devoured by fans of pulp horror titles like The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz (2019) and by those who like the juxtaposition of supernatural and real-world horrors found in the works of Victor LaValle. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In 1997, four contestants have managed to make it to the final cell of a booby-trapped, chills-for-everyone escape room called Quigley House without shrieking the safe word, reprieve. It's a rare feat defeated when someone breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants. Those remaining—teenager Kendra Brown, who has lost her father and consequently her childhood home; Leonard Grandton, caught in a series of poisonous relationships; and international student Jaidee Charoensuk, hoping to reconnect with a beloved former teacher—reflect on their part in the tragedy. From Iowa Writers' Workshop grad Mattson ( The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves), literary horror for readers of all stripes (except the easily unsettled); with a 150,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Mattson (The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves) returns with the smart and harrowing story of a killing at a haunted house. In 1997, Victor Dunlap, a bank manager who used to teach English in Thailand, agrees to participate in a full-contact escape room–style challenge at Quigley House in Lincoln, Nebr. His four-person team includes his fiancée, Jane Roth, who is obsessed with Halloween but finds being handcuffed, shocked, and muzzled with electrical tape by the haunted house's staff to be a bit too much; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a university student whom Victor had taught in Kanchanaburi, and who sought Victor out in the U.S. because he had a crush on him. The house supplies a fourth teammate, Bryan Douglas, a Black university student whose throat is slit in the house by Leonard Grandton in front of the others, who initially think it's part of the act. Leonard had developed a friendship with the man who owns Quigley, before becoming needy and erratic. The tense, well-paced story—meted out in snippets of courtroom transcriptions during Leonard's trial and chapters from various characters' points of view, including Bryan's cousin Kendra, who recently moved to Lincoln from Washington, D.C., and whose friend back east was concerned about her "managing all that white"—gradually reveals thematic connections as everyone grapples with understanding why Bryan was killed. It adds up to a canny use of horror as metaphor for themes of guilt, race, and sexuality. (Oct.)Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that one of the characters works in Lincoln, Nebr., and misattributed a line of dialogue. This review has also been updated for clarity. Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

A haunting horror story dealing with issues of race, homophobia, and sexism. Something horrible happened one night in 1997 at a "full contact" haunted house in Nebraska, but it takes the length of the book to ascertain exactly what transpired and, more important, why. Teenage horror fan Kendra is thrilled to get a job at Quigley House, the only interesting part of her new life in Nebraska. If a group of participants can make it through Quigley House without screaming "Reprieve" (the safe word that halts everything), they win a cash prize. This job leads to her beloved older cousin Bryan joining a four-person team intent on winning the haunt. Bryan is focused on winning the $15,000 prize; Jaidee wants to impress his longtime crush, Victor; and Victor wants to impress his fiancée. The backstories of the four doomed contestants intersect with those of John, the calculating owner of the house, and the easily manipulated Leonard. The team's success at each stage of the haunt is punctuated by after-the-fact depositions revealing that something awful happened in the final stage of their quest. The racism experienced by Black characters Kendra and Bryan, and the racism both experienced by and perpetuated by Jaidee, ratchets up the sense of dread. Sexual scenes, including scenes of sex tourism in Thailand, may be triggering though they are not gratuitously written. VERDICT An intense, clever, and thought-provoking horror tragedy. Narration by the younger characters is likely to appeal to older teens, who may also be drawn to the Stephen King–like haunted house setting.—Ann Foster, Saskatoon P.L., Sask. Copyright 2021 School Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room-a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession withfear as entertainment. 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-a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house's long history. 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. A startlingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism, and seamlessly threads together trial transcripts, evidence descriptions, and deeply layered individual narratives to present a chilling portrait of this tangled American life"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

When a contestant is murdered in the final cell of the Quigley House—a full-contact haunted escape room, those who were present on that fateful night must come to terms with how their beliefs and actions may have contributed to this horrifying act of violence. 150,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"Like Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching or Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl, Reprieve straddles genres in the best possible way. . . . Sure to spark conversation and debate at book clubs across the land." –LOS ANGELES TIMES“An eventual American classic that is unrelenting in its beauty and incisive cultural critique.” – KIESE LAYMONRecommended by New York Times • Los Angeles Times • NPR • Today • Esquire • O Quarterly • Boston Globe • Chicago Tribune • Harper’s Bazaar • Shondaland • Thrillist • The Millions • Crimereads • XTRA • Tor • Literary Hub • and more!A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. 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—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. 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, deceit 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.An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.