Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

NOTE: This review was originally published at High Fever Books in November 2019. That website has been closed, so I am republishing it here.

Publisher: Dutton

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Pages: 384 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

You’ve heard of the classic novel and celebrated film Rosemary’s Baby? You may also be familiar with The Sentinel or even a specific season of American Horror Story? If you’re familiar with horror tales like these, Riley Sager’s newest novel will feel very familiar to you. Riley even pays tribute to Ira Levin in the Dedication! It’s clear that the author loves the urban Gothic, and wanted to write a novel in the same mold. Homage is a wonderful thing! But here’s the problem: if it’s done poorly, it can end up feeling derivative and stale.

As much as I enjoy this kind of Gothic story, Lock Every Door misses the mark. Granted, while it’s always entertaining to see this kind of story set in the modern day, the story just isn’t meaty enough to support itself. The novel starts with Jules Larsen, a young woman with a past (of course) and nowhere to go (yep). When she receives an offer to move into a swanky apartment building called The Bartholomew (in Manhattan!), she jumps at the chance! All she has to do is housesit, and she gets paid a fat check. It’s almost too good to be true (it is). For starters, there are just a few house rules. No one can visit her. She’s not allowed to talk to any of the other guests. Oh! And other house sitters have been going missing.

            I don’t mean to say that a formulaic plot can’t be interesting. That’s one of the best parts about the horror genre. But it’s important to find innovation and new angles within the tropes. Unfortunately, this plot never finds either. The only thing interesting about our protagonist is in her past, and even that’s something you’ve seen a million times before.

            The Bartholomew itself is an interesting location, but that’s only because of a couple of the characters within its historic walls. An elderly author and a friendly doorman stand out to me. They are two of many characters that play a part in the plot to come. For a moment, there is a mystery here. Who can Jules trust? What’s happening at The Bartholomew? It won’t take you long to figure it out, and when you do, you may find it hard to care.

I wanted to like Lock Every Door. Riley Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls, was a brisk exploration of the slasher genre. It went places. It had interesting characters. I requested this book for review because I wanted to see how the author would play around in the cob-webbed playground that is the literary Gothic. But Lock Every Door never comes together. The plot is bare bones, the characters are mostly dull, and the protagonist is a bit plain. Itnever shakes off the chains of the urban Gothics that came before. If you want this kind of story, go to the classics. Lock Every Door isn’t what you’re looking for.

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