Monthly Archives: November 2019

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape RoomThe Escape Room by Megan Goldin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you liked The Firm, John Grisham’s first (and worst) novel, you’ll like this one, and vice versa. Grisham could probably win a copyright violation case, the plots are so similar. The story is told from two perspectives, alternating every other chapter. One set is told by Sara Hall, a brilliant, virtuous, and beautiful young woman who just obtained her MBA from a good business school, but for some reason we are told is virtually unemployable except as a waitress or bartender. Even so, she lands a job at prestigious investment banking firm, Stanhope, in New York, where she is treated well at first and is making good money. It looks like a dream job which she believes she absolutely cannot leave no matter what. (Shades of The Firm). The only difference so far from The Firm is Mitch was a lawyer and Sara an investment banker.

Sara’s thread takes place in the past. The current day thread takes place in an elevator. Four members of the Stanhope team where Sara, now dead, worked, have been summoned there by Human Resources for a compulsory team building exercise. They enter the out-of-the-way building late on Friday night and are directed to take the elevator up to the 70th floor. When they do so, the elevator comes to a grinding stop and the monitor over the door welcomes them to The Escape Room. Their job is to get out alive.

As we soon find out, Stanhope is rotten to the core. Things soon go badly for Sara in her thread and things go even worse in the elevator for her former coworkers. Plot-wise I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, but it isn’t hard to figure out where this one is going right from Chapter 1. It’s pure preposterous schlock, but a quick read and entertaining enough in its way.

I could find some major criticisms, but I’ll just pick a couple of nits that struck me. First, like Grisham in The Firm the author has done a shoddy job of research in many simple easy-to-check matters. For example, there is no building anywhere in the Bronx with 70+ floors or even close, and if one were to be built in the Bronx, it wouldn’t be in the South Bronx. Another example is one puzzle, a [spoiler alert] Caesar cipher almost anyone could figure out instantly, yet these supposedly brilliant Ivy League MBAs and lawyers took hours to solve and then called it a simple transposition cipher. It’s not; it’s a substitution cipher. Transposition ciphers are anagrams. Secondly, all the characters are totally over the top to the extent of becoming caricatures. Sara is a complete milquetoast, her teammates arrogant, venal, condescending jerks (in the absence of more appropriate R-rated words). Still, it’s an acceptable beach read if you can find a beach above 40 degrees. Take this one with you to Hawaii.

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A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War IIA Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This non-fiction account of one of America’s (and France’s) true heroes is excellent reading. American Virginia Hall was a polyglot with an adventurous streak and a burning love for France, her adopted country. Spurned by the U.S. Diplomatic Corps for being a woman, and sometimes because of her wooden leg, she joined the British SOE to help organize (or organise if you’re British) French resistance fighters during WWII. Her exploits are truly amazing, characterized by courage, intelligence, and selflessness. Most importantly, she got the job done and earned the respect, even devotion, of those men and women she led or worked with.

The book is deeply researched. The acknowledgments section is almost a third of the book. The writer does seem to have a detectable feminist bias. She gives Virginia credit for everything and blame for nothing. No doubt there was rampant sexism back then that kept Hall from reaching the roles and ranks she deserved, but as fate would have it, she probably ended up in a role that not only best suited her talents and desires, but was the best possible one for the Allied war effort as well.

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