Greed and arrogance are qualities that permeate the personalities of the characters in Megan Goldin’s “The Escape Room.” The first chapter offers the reader clues that the story will not end well for some of those characters, but just how that comes about is part of the mystery and the thrill. Four hedge fund traders at the competitive firm of Stanhope and Sons are commanded to appear for a team-building exercise. Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam all have better things to be doing, but they are all extremely competitive, and they all want to get the best bonus possible, so they all show up to the not-quite-completed office building and enter the elevator.
At first, it seems like any other escape room exercise. They assume that after one hour, it will all be over whether they figure out how to escape or not. But they slowly come to realize that this is no ordinary escape room. This is personal.
The chapters alternate between the action in the elevator and chapters titled “Sara Hall” which are told in first person. Sara details her life and how she came to work at Stanhope and Sons. Unlike many of those at the elite firm who got their positions because of family connections or Ivy League school pedigrees, Sara got hers because of her brains and her persistence. Those are two qualities that will serve her well over the course of the story.
The characters in the elevator, on the other hand, are cut from a different cloth. While their backgrounds may be quite different, they all have one thing in common. They will do anything to survive, anything to make money. And once stuck in an elevator for endless hours, each character’s true nature begins to be revealed. Goldin reveals the motivation for the characters’ past behavior and slowly shares what the four have in common — the secret that they all have carefully hidden for years.
But just as there is no honor among thieves, so do the occupants of the elevator find out some dark secrets that they find extremely surprising, and as it turns out, extremely dangerous. What appears to be a simple mind exercise becomes much more over the course of the next almost 40 hours that they are shut up together in the elevator.
Many times over the course of the story, Goldin reveals the sexism and degradation that women face in this mostly-male profession. She also exposes the obsession with looks and clothing — even if one works non-stop and barely sleeps, there are lotions and beauty secrets to make someone look strong and healthy. The competition is fierce, too, as coworkers vie for the best bonuses and salaries, undercutting the others on their own team to look better. There is no room for kindness or camaraderie in this financial world.
Goldin’s writing is engrossing, and it’s truly difficult to put this book down. You start the first chapter, and suddenly you need to find out what happens and how it all ends. While some of the ending is revealed at the start, it’s still not clear exactly what happened, and Goldin carefully shows the shallowness of those who work long hours for the ability to buy more — more thousand-dollar suits and shoes, larger homes, better vacations (although they don’t have time to take vacations), pricey cars, and whatever their greed compels them to covet. Goldin ensures that we only really care about one character, the only character with depth and a reason for wanting the money. Is she alive or is she dead? While the reader will guess part of the mystery before the end of the book, the fun is in turning page after page to see how bad it gets in the elevator and how good revenge can be.
Definitely put this book on your reading list. It’s clever, insightful, look at Wall Street, and it’s thrilling, well written, and just fun to read.
This review was originally posted on Bookreporter.com.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for review purposes.