Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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Seven years after Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Pessl returns with a novel as twisted and intelligent as that lauded debut. Again, the story centers on a father-daughter relationship, but this time the sinister element is front and center, beginning with the daughter's death. The "night films" of Stanislas Cordova have a cult following: fans hold underground screenings and claim that to see his work is to "leave your old self behind, walk through hell, and be reborn." Ashley Cordova is his enigmatic daughter; she appears in his final film at the age of eight, debuts as a pianist at Carnegie Hall at 12, and apparently commits suicide at 24. Scott McGrath is a reporter who lost his job investigating Stanislas and can't resist his need to uncover the real story of Ashley's death. Though the structure is classic noir, Pessl delivers lifelike horror with glimpses, in the form of faux Web sites, of the secretive Stanislas, his films, and his fans. Things slow down when Scott breaks into Stanislas's estate; sustained terror depends on what is withheld, not what is shown. But Pessl does wonderful work giving the hard-headed Scott reason to question the cause of Ashley's death, and readers will be torn between logic and magic. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
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When horror film director Stanislas Cordova's 24-year-old daughter, Ashley, turns up dead in New York City, an apparent suicide, investigative reporter Scott McGrath is convinced that there's more involved. Having been fired from his job over a story about the mysterious director, who has disappeared from public life, Scott reluctantly becomes fascinated with the details of Ashley's death and teams up with Nora, one of the last people to see Ashley alive, and Hopper, who may have been in love with Ashley. This trio follow multiple leads, mostly in and around New York City, finally deciding that an unauthorized visit to the director's fortress-like estate, hidden in the Adirondack Mountains, could solve some of the seemingly unanswerable questions surrounding Ashley's death. They learn that investigating a story is sometimes like following a plot in a movie: there are endless and frightening twists. VERDICT Given an added dimension by Pessl, whose award-winning 2006 debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, roused many, this creepy and exciting mystery story effectively creates the character Cordova, who is never actually present but whose bleak artistic vision successfully imbues the novel with an ominous atmosphere. At times the narrative is a kind of detective procedural and slows down a bit over its considerable length, but the addition of photos, quotations, and background materials in differing formats adds a realistic element to a thrilling read. [See Prepub Alert, 2/18/13.]-James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* When the daughter of a notorious film director is found dead in New York, an apparent suicide, investigative reporter Scott McGrath throws himself back into a story that almost ended his career. But now McGrath has his Rosebud, and like Jedediah Leland in Citizen Kane, who hoped to make sense of media mogul Charles Foster Kane by understanding his last word, so the reporter sets out to determine how Ashley Cordova died and, in so doing, penetrate the heart of darkness that engulfs her reclusive father, Stanislas. Like Pessl's first novel, the acclaimed Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006), this one expands from a seemingly straightforward mystery into a multifaceted, densely byzantine exploration of much larger issues, in this case, the nature of truth and illusion as reflected by the elusive Cordova, whose transcend-the-genre horror films are cult favorites and about whom rumors of black magic and child abuse continue to swirl. His daughter, piano prodigy Ashley (her notes weren't played; they were poured from a Grecian urn ), is almost as mysterious as her father, her life and death equally clouded in secrecy and colored with possibly supernatural shadings. Into this mazelike world of dead ends and false leads, McGrath ventures with his two, much younger helpers, Nora and Hopper, brilliantly portrayed Holmesian irregulars who may finally understand more about Ashley than their mentor, whose linear approach to fact finding might miss the point entirely. Pessl's first novel, while undeniably impressive, possessed some of the overindulgence one might expect from a talented and precocious young writer. All evidence of that is gone here; the book is every bit as complex as Calamity Physics, but the writing is always under control, and the characters never fail to draw us further into the maelstrom of the story.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2010 Booklist