I stayed up way too late finishing “The Cage” by debut author Bonnie Kistler. Because of the promo material, I was expecting a sort of “escape room” mystery. That’s not at all what I got, and I’m not disappointed at all. I loved how Kistler alternated past and present, first and third person. The dated entries are clearly to show events leading up to the present predicament in which Shay Lambert finds herself. One Sunday evening, she and the head of HR, Lucy Carter-Jones, both leave the office at the same time and find themselves sharing an elevator. Shortly after they begin their descent, all power goes off, and their only communication with the world outside the elevator is a short 911 call. When they arrive at the first floor, Carter-Jones is dead. But was her death, from an unregistered handgun, murder or suicide?
We learn a lot about Shay Lambert from her first person narrative. We come to admire her greatly; she’s plucky, intelligent, determined, ambitious. Shay came from nothing, an indifferent (at best) mother, and two brothers who ended up in jail. But what Shay had in her corner, in addition to her razor-sharp intellect, was a guidance counselor whose sage advice and support from 7th grade on helped Shay get through college and law school. She advised Shay to think of what she wanted, act as if she had it, and move forward. It was sage advice as Shay’s native intelligence and ambition helped her get a position with a power law firm in New York City after graduation from law school. She and her husband lived the good life until the crash in 2008. They both lost their jobs and life quickly spiraled downward for them both. Now they share a tiny basement studio and Shay desperately looks for jobs while her husband drinks and does drugs. It’s not what she envisioned.
Then Shay gets a prestigious job offer in a corporate setting, a huge fashion house. Through the third person narrative, we get to know the general counsel at the corporation, J. Ingram Barrett, Jr., also known as Barry. His life is not one to be envied because in spite of his enormous salary, he has rapacious children, a greedy narcissistic second wife, and huge problems at work. And with the elevator death, we see there are secrets that must remain hidden at all costs.
As we delve deeper into the past and learn about Shay’s background, her rapier mind, and her determination to succeed at all costs, we grow to admire her. Even when the worst happens, she is constantly thinking, plotting, planning ways to get ahead. In fact, we are left behind as Shay outthinks the men in the story and us readers. The tension builds as Shay’s life is in danger and when it seems that her powerful enemies will win, she turns the tables on them with intelligence as her only weapon.
For those who enjoy books that are equal parts action and psychological thrills, this mystery will hit the sweet spot. There are few huge twists and turns, but they would be superfluous. Fine writing, a carefully wrought plot, realistic dialogue, and legal warfare make this a novel is thoughtful, propulsive, and fascinating read. Perfect book club fare.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Harper, the publisher, for review purposes.