There’s really no rhyme or reason behind the books I decide to read or review. Some I write about because they’re just SO GOOD I want everyone to love them and some books are so popular, I feel like I’d be missing out if I didn’t throw my two cents out into the interwebs. And most of the time, I can go weeks after reading before finally getting to my review. But some books. Some books become an insidious weed in my brain and I can’t do anything else until I clear it all out here. Night Film is definitely one of those.
Marisha Pessl’s Night Film was published last year, I believe, and isn’t one of those ultra-popular reads every book club known to man is going to pick up. Mostly because it’s creepy as hell and ridiculously over-the-top in the best possible way. The book follows Scott McGrath, a disgraced investigative journalist who lost all his credibility years earlier when he tried to take down the brilliant, mysterious, and reclusive horror film director, Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s enigmatic daughter Ashley has apparently committed suicide, but Scott thinks that’s just too convenient. He starts digging deeper into her death with the help of a ragtag team of people who knew Ashley and were the last to ever see her alive. The path they take winds them through mental institutions, voodoo curses, summer camps for wayward teens, a secret internet fan site for the “Cordovites,” foot chases through Manhattan, and, finally, a night or two within the military-fenced walls of The Peak, Cordova’s massive estate (a.k.a., the WORST acid trip ever).
I won’t lie, as far as crime novels or thrillers go, this one is a slow burner. It’s not one to cause obsessive 2 a.m. reading from word one. But what it lacks in initial fire, it makes up for it in spades later on. It is probably one of the most detailed stories I have ever read, fitting since the subject of the investigation is known as a meticulous and exacting creative genius. Cordova is such a great villain! He’s always just out of the picture, hiding in the shadows and pulling all the puppet strings to fit his narrative. Or so Scott believes because actors never talk about their work with him and the secrets all point to dangerous and deadly things happening behind those walls. Pessl truly created an enigma in Cordova – he is in turn evil and magical, brilliant and horrific. And he’s not the only great character. Nora and Hopper, the rest of the ragtag justice league, are so clearly depicted that you really feel their hope and sadness throughout the relentless search for the truth. Usually the characters are my favorite part (in the absence of a love story, obvi) but in Night Film I LOVED the inclusion of fake newspaper and magazine articles and photos and webpages from Scott’s investigation. So brilliant! It was like you got to be detective too and added so much to the narrative.
Ostensibly, Night Film is very simple. It follows pretty classic crime novel moves. But thanks to Pessl’s attention to (and inclusion of) all the details, it gets pretty deep. I found myself thinking about the book long after I would finish reading (and not just in some pretty effed up dreams it made me have), thinking about how in the search for the truth about Cordova, Scott is really searching for how he/you/me/everyone defines “truth.” If you fiercely believe that something is true, it becomes a part of your reality. In the book’s case, Ashley believed she was marked by the devil and Scott believed Cordova was an evil murderer. Were either of these things true? Can you really say they were false? I for one can’t say for certain and it makes me wonder what other “truths” out there are as malleable. Like I said, deep.
I really enjoyed reading Night Film and think it’s perfect for anyone who likes crime mysteries that veer a little to the creepy. Perfect before Halloween! (Just make sure to read the part in The Peak during the daytime!)
Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)