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Reprieve

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A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants. Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe. An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.


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A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants. Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe. An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.

30 review for Reprieve

  1. 5 out of 5

    Regina

    Going into this “literary novel of social horror,” I had two expectations: 1) I wouldn’t like it given the mostly-unfavorable early reviews, and 2) I’d get to snarkily say in my own review how I threw up my hands and yelled “Reprieve!” when I didn’t finish it. Reprieve (noun) = “The cancellation or postponement of a punishment.” To my surprise, I ended up needing no reprieve from the book at all, though I’m well aware others may view reading it as a punishment. It really does come down to expect Going into this “literary novel of social horror,” I had two expectations: 1) I wouldn’t like it given the mostly-unfavorable early reviews, and 2) I’d get to snarkily say in my own review how I threw up my hands and yelled “Reprieve!” when I didn’t finish it. Reprieve (noun) = “The cancellation or postponement of a punishment.” To my surprise, I ended up needing no reprieve from the book at all, though I’m well aware others may view reading it as a punishment. It really does come down to expectations. If you pick it up for the HORROR, you’ll be bored by the backstory. If you snag a copy for the SOCIAL critique, you’ll have a better outcome. The basic concept is that contestants have entered a full-contact escape room / haunted house in 1997, and if they make it all the way through without yelling the titular safe word they’ll win $60,000. But something has gone wrong. Readers bounce from gory scenes in the house to interrogation-type interludes to (lengthy) backstories of the characters. Said characters are diverse, which I loved, though their diversity serves the book’s effort to examine race issues, gender politics, and financial disparity. This is James Han Mattson’s sophomore novel, and I applaud his attempt to feed his audience a horrific meal with a little meat on its bones. It just definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes. 3.5 stars My thanks to the author and William Morrow / Scene of the Crime for the gifted copy to review via NetGalley. Reprieve is now available. Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael David

    Well, this wasn’t what I was expecting… Quigley House is a full-contact haunted escape room...meaning the actors can touch you and do what they want to you. It’s famous for offering $60,000 to pairs of four people who complete each cell (room) without using the safe word. Only one group has ever won. In 1997, four contestants from different walks of life make it to the final cell. Before completing their task, a man breaks into the house and brutally murders one of the contestants. Reprieve is tol Well, this wasn’t what I was expecting… Quigley House is a full-contact haunted escape room...meaning the actors can touch you and do what they want to you. It’s famous for offering $60,000 to pairs of four people who complete each cell (room) without using the safe word. Only one group has ever won. In 1997, four contestants from different walks of life make it to the final cell. Before completing their task, a man breaks into the house and brutally murders one of the contestants. Reprieve is told via court transcripts after the murder, via the cells as the contestants progress, and through a few POVs leading up to the murder. It’s a social commentary on the world we live in, touching on racism, identity, sexism, etc. While I appreciate that, I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, nor did I walk away thinking it was profound. It’s bleak and often annoying due to the mostly severely unlikable characters. I understand that’s intentional. However, the dialogue repeats itself quite often, as if drilling in a point that we, the readers, are already aware of. I felt uncomfortable, disgusted, and frustrated by the majority of the characters. I wouldn’t call this a horror novel at all. While the scenes that flashback to the cells and the murder are indeed horrific, this book never surprises or throws out anything unexpected. Some of the POVs also read like YA, to the point where I literally had to browse the web and see if I accidentally picked up a YA novel. While it’s ultimately not YA, I don’t really know what it is. And yet, I hit a point where I just had to see how everything played out. In a way, I became invested...and the last few chapters leading up to the murder were well done as things came together. Ultimately, while I appreciated what the novel was trying to show, it didn’t astound or amaze me. 2.5 stars Thank you to William Morrow and Scene of the Crime for an ARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Expected Publication Date: 10/5/21. Review also posted at: https://bonkersforthebooks.wordpress.com

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jayme

    ONLY ONE THING CAN TRIUMPH OVER FEAR, at least temporarily, GREED. And, the owner and proprietor, of Quigley House, John Quigley, is counting on that. The rules are simple-if your 4 person team can make it through the six cells of his “full contact” haunted escape room, without using the safe word “Reprieve” (which means you want to quit) AND two of the envelopes you have found match those held by the ghost of Martha Quigley, who waits with two envelopes of her own, in cell 6, the group will win ONLY ONE THING CAN TRIUMPH OVER FEAR, at least temporarily, GREED. And, the owner and proprietor, of Quigley House, John Quigley, is counting on that. The rules are simple-if your 4 person team can make it through the six cells of his “full contact” haunted escape room, without using the safe word “Reprieve” (which means you want to quit) AND two of the envelopes you have found match those held by the ghost of Martha Quigley, who waits with two envelopes of her own, in cell 6, the group will win 60,000. Oh, and a t-shirt! Only one group has succeeded so far, and our group-Victor, Jane, Jaidee and Bryan hope to be the second. A scoreboard is on the wall and the instructions for Cell One say: * #envelopes total 8 * # envelopes you need to find to move on to the next cell- 5 * Contestants who attack will be disqualified * First Aid kit behind the clock Sounds, like a nail biting thriller, doesn’t it? It isn’t. Though it could have been, and is what I was HOPING it would be. The rooms (cells) in the house are known for having ghoulishly costumed actors, who CAN touch you, elaborate props, and LOTS and LOTS of fake blood. Sounds like a horror story, right? Well, those chapters are definitely GROSS and qualify-but most of the book takes place outside of the house, as we get to know the back stories of our players, and the staff members of Quigley House, before and after each cell. So, the majority of the book is not. Two of our protagonists, contestant Jaidee and staff member, Kendra are young, and their respective chapters read like YA. But, the book isn’t labeled as such. So, what is this book exactly ? A guess it’s a crossover of genres, as the back stories touch on the things that can make our characters vulnerable, such as race, prejudice, deceit and sexuality, as you might find in literary fiction. I feel like the book would’ve been stronger if the author had decided on one genre to concentrate on. As written, it is a little bit of each but doesn’t quite reach the full potential of any of them, and as I finished I felt quite apathetic about it-I didn’t hate it-but it won’t leave a lasting impression on me, either. Thank You to William Morrow and Scene of the Crime for my gifted copy provided through NetGalley. It was my pleasure to offer a candid review! AVAILABLE NOW!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    If you are an escape room enthusiast, this is the novel for you….maybe…well, you most likely won’t go to one in the future….or, maybe you will. So, “Reprieve” is a novel about a “full contact” escape room full of macabre and horror. The deal is, if you can get through the game at the Quigley House in Lincoln Nebraska(of all places), your team will win $60,000. Teams are made of 4, so each person goes home with $15,000! What a deal! All you must do, as you go through the 5 different cells, is rea If you are an escape room enthusiast, this is the novel for you….maybe…well, you most likely won’t go to one in the future….or, maybe you will. So, “Reprieve” is a novel about a “full contact” escape room full of macabre and horror. The deal is, if you can get through the game at the Quigley House in Lincoln Nebraska(of all places), your team will win $60,000. Teams are made of 4, so each person goes home with $15,000! What a deal! All you must do, as you go through the 5 different cells, is realize it’s all make-believe. Oh, and you need to collect all your envelops to win. But how does one get these envelops?? Well, it’s gross. Plus, contestants are touched, prodded, shocked, hit, slapped with slime…need I go on? This is not one of those cozy mystery sorts of stories. The backstories of the four contestants take up most of the novel. From the start, we know that there was a murder on that night in the escape room. The four contestants are being interviewed by authorities to ascertain what really happened. Weaving into that event are the contestants’ reasons for being at the game. If I have a complaint, it’s that the backstories were a bit too much. In fact, getting involved in the character stories makes it a bit confusing as to what the relevance is to the main story. It started slow, with all these back stories. It took a while to weave it all together. Once the retelling of the night started, with the reader learning what happened in each cell, the story picked up. There is some cross-examination pieces that tie everything more together. It left me wondering, would I put myself through all that to get $15,000? Sounds easy, right? Well, read the book….PTSD is on the menu if you win or not. Of course, Halloween is not my favorite time of year, so, take my opinion with a large lick of salt. I listened to the audio production narrated by JD Jackson and produced by Harper Audio. Jackson did a fine job!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    When I read the synopsis for this book and saw that fantastic cover the horror girl in me was squealing in delight. This became one of my most anticipated books of 2021. This book is about a full contact haunted house, Quigley House, in which teams of 4 must navigate themselves through a series of cells. This won't be easy as the actors dressed as various ghouls and goblins can physically assault you. Most people yell the safe word "Reprieve" long before getting to the end. The team of four that When I read the synopsis for this book and saw that fantastic cover the horror girl in me was squealing in delight. This became one of my most anticipated books of 2021. This book is about a full contact haunted house, Quigley House, in which teams of 4 must navigate themselves through a series of cells. This won't be easy as the actors dressed as various ghouls and goblins can physically assault you. Most people yell the safe word "Reprieve" long before getting to the end. The team of four that we follow are Bryan, Jaidee, Vincent, and Jane. We know from the start of the novel that something has gone wrong. Someone has been threatened with a knife to the throat. Is this part of the game or is something more sinister happening? This book is being marketed as a horror novel and the time we spend inside the Quigley House is horrific and gory and everything you'd expect it to be. They were without a doubt my favorite parts of the novel. However, they are only a small part. The rest of the novel gives us the background on our characters and I thought Mattson did an excellent job in character development. Rather than a horror novel this book is much more a commentary on racism, sexuality, and politics. It questions how judgmental we are as people even if we don't think we are and don't mean to be. It was thought provoking and could make for some really great discussions. All in all I dug this. I thought Mattson had a genius idea and while a part of me was wishing for a little more horror, in the end, I came to appreciate the novel for flexing it's intellectual muscle rather than splattering us with non-stop gore. 4 stars! **NOTE** I just went to post my review to Amazon and received this message: Amazon has noticed unusual reviewing activity on this product. Due to this activity, we have limited this product to verified purchase reviews. What's up with that? 🤔 I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway! Thanks Goodreads!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ceecee

    3.5 rounded down. ‘Reprieve’ yell contestants who can take no more of Quigley House, Lincoln, Nebraska, a house of smoke and mirrors, where teams of four compete in a game that can only be described as ghoulish. There are six ‘cells’ they have to pass through where they encounter repulsive creatures aiming to prevent them from grabbing the requisite number of envelopes to proceed to the next cell. If and it’s a big if, they complete the game they win £60,000 and a t-shirt, yes, don’t forget the 3.5 rounded down. ‘Reprieve’ yell contestants who can take no more of Quigley House, Lincoln, Nebraska, a house of smoke and mirrors, where teams of four compete in a game that can only be described as ghoulish. There are six ‘cells’ they have to pass through where they encounter repulsive creatures aiming to prevent them from grabbing the requisite number of envelopes to proceed to the next cell. If and it’s a big if, they complete the game they win £60,000 and a t-shirt, yes, don’t forget the t-shirt as you’ve certainly earned it! However, in 1997 when Jaidee, Jane, Victor and Bryan compete something goes catastrophically wrong. The story is told through the eyes of Kendra, Bryan’s cousin who works at Quigley House, Leonard Grandton a hotel manager with links to Quigley House and by Jaidee Charoensuk, a competitor and international student from Thailand. Their narratives are interspersed with court transcripts and via the contestants progress in the game. First of all, it’s fair to say the premise is quite an original one and the sections I like most are in the game itself as these are described vividly. The characterisation is good, they’re all flawed, some have traits that make you extremely uncomfortable such as Leonard who is a misogynist and owner John Forrester is a manipulative sleazeball and distinctly creepy. It’s hard to know what to make of Jaidee who struggles to fit in, is culturally misunderstood and he misunderstands too. We learn more about each character through the process of the game and this is done well. It’s also good on social commentary especially racism, sexual identity, sexism and politics which is clever and thought provoking. It’s a slow burner, it does have some suspense, in places it’s entertaining and the finale is good as is the epilogue with no reprieve for some characters. However, it’s described as horror and I don’t find it particularly horrifying principally because it seems to be targeted mostly at a YA audience rather than adult. Some of the chapters just seem yukky rather than making the hairs on the back of your neck stand out. Some dialogue makes me wince, it’s juvenile and I hark back to my YA point. Some parts are unnecessarily overlong and lead nowhere. It’s bleak, repetitive, too long with over detailing and way too much going on in the plot that it becomes dizzying and head spinning. In places it’s tedious and takes effort to keep going which makes for an uneven novel. It jumps about from one narrator and time frame to another which gets confusing. Overall, even with the flaws the premise is good as are some sections. With thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    James

    I intended to write a story about an English bookstore owner whose dull but stable existence is upended after he falls in love with a dazzling American actress but someone told me that was the plot of Notting Hill so I wrote this instead. Cheers!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Angie Kim

    I'm in awe. I would say more, but I'm so devastated that I can't. And yet, the story somehow left me hopeful. That is its power, along with the masterful way Mattson combines a horror-murder mystery with brilliant social commentary on fetishization, racism, and heteronormativity. I'm just completely in awe. (I'm going to try to get some sleep now and hope that when I wake up, I will be less devastated so that I can articulate why I'm in awe.) I'm in awe. I would say more, but I'm so devastated that I can't. And yet, the story somehow left me hopeful. That is its power, along with the masterful way Mattson combines a horror-murder mystery with brilliant social commentary on fetishization, racism, and heteronormativity. I'm just completely in awe. (I'm going to try to get some sleep now and hope that when I wake up, I will be less devastated so that I can articulate why I'm in awe.)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Renee Godding

    “In my observation, there’s only one thing that can triumph over fear, at least temporarily.” “What’s that?” Bryan asked “Well”, John said, “greed of course”. Four contestants, six cells, countless litres of fake blood… And one real murder. That is the basic set up of Reprieve, James Han Mattson’s sophomore novel, and first foray into the literary horror genre. The Quigley House is an escape room like you’ve never experienced before. A full-haunt comprised of 6 consecutive cells, where a team of 4 “In my observation, there’s only one thing that can triumph over fear, at least temporarily.” “What’s that?” Bryan asked “Well”, John said, “greed of course”. Four contestants, six cells, countless litres of fake blood… And one real murder. That is the basic set up of Reprieve, James Han Mattson’s sophomore novel, and first foray into the literary horror genre. The Quigley House is an escape room like you’ve never experienced before. A full-haunt comprised of 6 consecutive cells, where a team of 4 contestants must find envelopes amid scares both inanimate and alive, in order to continue to the next cell. In cell 6, a large prize sum will away the team, given that they all reach the end without yelling out the safe word “reprieve”. In 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, before a man barges in with a knife and brutally murders one of them. Told through a combination of flashbacks and courtroom transcripts, we unravel the truth of what transpired in the house that faithful day, and whether or not this game was rigged from the start. Reprieve is a difficult book to review. It has received early praise calling it a new American classic, and although it hits home on many levels, it also drops the ball too often on others. Overall I wanted to love it more than I did. Let’s start off with the good: Based off the description alone, you may be fooled into thinking this is a simple slasher story, but by cleverly bending and combining elements from different genres Reprieve elevates itself far above that. Woven throughout the blood and gore is a lot of powerful social commentary on racism, greed, prejudice and our societal fascination and fetishization of fear. Additionally, elements of misdirection and gaslighting amp up the tension to a nail-biting level in about the final 100 pages. Which characters are actors? Who is in on the scheme? Who is really playing games with whom? Had the whole novel been at the level of these final 100 pages, it’d been a 5-star candidate. Unfortunately it’s not. The first 300-or-so pages were quite frankly a bit boring to me. We get descriptions of the event within the first 4 cells of the haunt (loads of actors splashing fake blood on the contestants), alternated with background of the characters and a few court-transcripts. It becomes repetitive soon and lost its appeal to me. If the goal was character-building, I don’t think the book succeeded. Too many indistinct characters were introduced in a short amount of time, having me confused as to who was who. In the end, most of them felt very much like “token minority” characters, without much depth. (view spoiler)[E.g.: I know nothing about Bryans character, other than that he’s the stereotypical black-dude in a horror movie who dies first. Jaidee is Asian and a nerd. He’s also gay, which is shown by him being attracted to almost every male character he interacts with… huh?!? (hide spoiler)] Maybe this was part of the commentary, but I’m just not here for it at all. In addition to being flat, the characters dialogue is written very juvenile, which creates a bit of a tonal mismatch with the themes of the book. While the story is definitely meant for an adult audience, the characters and dialogue (and the level of scares in the first 4 cells) are so immature that it feels more suited to a YA-audience. Overall a decent thriller, laced with social commentary, that unfortunately didn’t quite live up to its full potential. Reprieve will be available in print and in e-book format from the 5th of October 2021. Many thanks to the publisher William Morrow & Bloomsbury for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    The first thing I’m going to say about Reprieve is that it isn’t a horror novel. I’m mentioning this because everything I’d heard about it, plus the cover, screamed horror to me, so I went in with very specific expectations. It’s actually better described as a sensitive study of three characters and the events that bring them together. It’s a deeper story, and less plot-driven, than I anticipated. Everything revolves around the Quigley House – which is referred to as an escape room in the blurbs The first thing I’m going to say about Reprieve is that it isn’t a horror novel. I’m mentioning this because everything I’d heard about it, plus the cover, screamed horror to me, so I went in with very specific expectations. It’s actually better described as a sensitive study of three characters and the events that bring them together. It’s a deeper story, and less plot-driven, than I anticipated. Everything revolves around the Quigley House – which is referred to as an escape room in the blurbs of both the UK and US editions, though that phrase never appears in the book, where it’s an extreme haunted-house attraction or simply a haunt. The characters are Kendra, a horror-obsessed teenage girl who ends up working there; Jaidee, a student from Thailand who moves to the US in pursuit of the American dream and, more pertinently, a teacher he has a crush on; and Leonard, a sad-sack hotel manager who is tangentially, albeit crucially, connected to the owner of the Quigley House. Because the book opens with an extract from a courtroom cross-examination, we know a crime is committed at the Quigley House; that someone’s life is threatened at the very least. But this comes second to the backstories of our three main players. Kendra’s desperation to impress (and thus keep) her long-distance boyfriend; Jaidee’s struggles to assimilate, which lead him to develop harmful biases of his own in an attempt to claw back some sort of identity; Leonard’s destruction of a happy relationship through misplaced jealousy and paranoia – it’s a cocktail of insecurities and prejudices that ends up tying these people together. Kendra is a loveable heroine; Jaidee and Leonard are characters I both disliked and felt enormous sympathy for. I’ve ended up shelving Reprieve as horror anyway, because I enjoyed all its allusions and references to horror tropes, and after all, what is Kendra if not an atypical Final Girl? But I’m already forgetting the details of the plot, and the atmosphere didn’t make much of an impression either. The people are what will stay with me. I could have happily read much, much more about each of them. I received an advance review copy of Reprieve from the publisher through NetGalley. TinyLetter | Linktree

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joe Krakovsky

    I won "Reprieve" in the Goodreads Giveaway. All I can say is that I am glad that I didn't buy it as I didn't like the characters or care for the story. I will therefore pass it on and hope somebody else enjoys it. Two stars for effort is all I can give it. I won "Reprieve" in the Goodreads Giveaway. All I can say is that I am glad that I didn't buy it as I didn't like the characters or care for the story. I will therefore pass it on and hope somebody else enjoys it. Two stars for effort is all I can give it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    A full contact haunted house story that tackles social horror, politics, race. (Not so much scary as it is gory.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dutchie( turkey slowed my reading down)

    I totally get what the author was trying to do here but feel it fell a bit flat. This focuses on several people from different backgrounds who decide to participate in a full contact haunted house(not my idea of fun…). We dive into the background of all the main characters and the struggles they face, whether it be racially, culturally or sexually. That is the meat of the book, the haunted house is a very minor part of the storyline. With that said, I liked reading about the characters-specifical I totally get what the author was trying to do here but feel it fell a bit flat. This focuses on several people from different backgrounds who decide to participate in a full contact haunted house(not my idea of fun…). We dive into the background of all the main characters and the struggles they face, whether it be racially, culturally or sexually. That is the meat of the book, the haunted house is a very minor part of the storyline. With that said, I liked reading about the characters-specifically Kendra. What I would have liked to see is how each character had some growth thru the story but besides Kendra no one seemed to. I would have thought the escape room/haunted house would bring them together more but the scenes were just too short. Let’s not even talk about Leonard….I get his involvement is to push some pieces along but that whole Thailand trip just bothered me. I still don’t understand some of the motives and felt the end needed a bit more explanation of why but maybe I just missed it. If your looking for a haunted house Halloween type book this isn’t it. I did however feel for some of the characters and was immersed in their back stories

  14. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Reprieve has writing with a ton of potential, but there was just too much going on. Some courtroom drama esque things, a horror escape room plot, and also tackling many social issues in the process? I’m interested in the author but Reprieve took turns that I was definitely not expecting!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    Reprieve is a riveting novel spanning the horror, suspense and thriller genres that is refreshingly original, deeply disturbing and difficult to put down about a brutal, unprovoked killing that takes place at a haunted house. It's 1997 and Victor Dunlap, a bank manager and former Thailand-based English teacher agrees to participate in what most wouldn't even consider: a challenge whereby you must try to survive through the horrific torturous things the creators of Quigley House, a full-contact e Reprieve is a riveting novel spanning the horror, suspense and thriller genres that is refreshingly original, deeply disturbing and difficult to put down about a brutal, unprovoked killing that takes place at a haunted house. It's 1997 and Victor Dunlap, a bank manager and former Thailand-based English teacher agrees to participate in what most wouldn't even consider: a challenge whereby you must try to survive through the horrific torturous things the creators of Quigley House, a full-contact escape room style experience located in Lincoln, Nebraska, have in store for you, but its so emotionally draining that you will most likely be left with trauma for years to come. Full contact refers to the fact that those who work there are given full approval to physically engage with contestants as they vie to win a monetary prize. Owned and operated by puppet master extraordinaire John Quigley, who claims it to be safe, it has grown a large following in a specialised sector of the haunt market with people looking for more of a hands on terrifying experience rather than just the usual run of the mill paranormal themed experiences. But if there is one thing that proves it may not be as safe as suggested it's that a former participant had his throat slashed in front of the others and subsequently died while inside the niche attraction when 37-year-old hotel manager Leonard Grandton murdered black university student Bryan Douglas who had only taken part due to his 15-year-old cousin Kendra being employed there. The four-man team had included Victor’s fiancee, Jane Roth, a lover of all things Halloween but who drew the line at some of the "trials" she was put through at Quigley House including being restrained with handcuffs, shocked, muzzled with tape and even waterboarding, all for the thrills and the chance to win $60,000 if you can endure the torture. Jaidee Charoensuk, a university student whom Victor had taught in Kanchanaburi, was another member of the team, and Bryan took the last spot. Initially, everyone thought it was merely part of the act, but they swiftly realised it most certainly wasn't. How was this allowed to happen in a place people attend apparently for fun? This is an enthralling, utterly disturbing and compulsively readable thriller with a refreshingly original premise that confirms to me 100% that Mattson has based this classic horror on the horrifying nature of a real-life full contact haunted house that has been under a cloud of controversy known as McKamey Manor, run by the apparent sadist Russ McKamey. Many of the people who help operate it seem to get a kick out of degrading, dehumanising and terrifying the contestants, which is certainly an ethical concern, but as they have themselves agreed to it and signed legal waivers, what can be said?! It's a tension-filled, wickedly twisty and delicious deviant read that is endlessly thrilling as you race through the pages, but I must admit, all the money in the world wouldn't get me to agree to one of these experiences. The power those who work there have over participants gives them satisfaction which truly makes you question the nature and legality of these types of venues that are well known to cause PTSD. The story can also be viewed as an allegory based around guilt, sexuality and racism and the power these issues hold over us all. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Natalie "Curling up with a Coffee and a Kindle" Rampling

    I was beside myself with giddiness when the NetGalley Approval email came through from the publisher. I had become a little obsessed with this book after seeing word of it on Twitter. This was a truly original premise, and escape room game with a murder to try and decipher. The execution was a little challenging for me. Each contestant has a transcript of a courtroom where the reader sees a glimpse of the escape room, and then the reader sees how the contestant came to be in there in the first pl I was beside myself with giddiness when the NetGalley Approval email came through from the publisher. I had become a little obsessed with this book after seeing word of it on Twitter. This was a truly original premise, and escape room game with a murder to try and decipher. The execution was a little challenging for me. Each contestant has a transcript of a courtroom where the reader sees a glimpse of the escape room, and then the reader sees how the contestant came to be in there in the first place. It was difficult to keep track of the escape room events, and who was who. I think a cast list would have really helped cement the characters in my head, as I do tend to struggle with a lot of characters. It was a fascinating look into society, and the judgements we have of others, but it wasn't the show-stopper I was expecting.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bookworm Extraordinaire

    Enjoyed this one a lot overall. HATED the ending!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Queralt✨

    I had a blast reading this. Quigley House is a full-contact haunted house where teams of 4 people attempt to go through five cells to win a pretty cash prize. It's all fun and giggles (though not really) until someone gets murdered. Reprieve tells you who has been murdered and who the killer is right off the bat, yet through snippets of the trial, interrogations, flashbacks, and following the characters you end up understanding how everyone ended up playing this crazy thing and why it ended this I had a blast reading this. Quigley House is a full-contact haunted house where teams of 4 people attempt to go through five cells to win a pretty cash prize. It's all fun and giggles (though not really) until someone gets murdered. Reprieve tells you who has been murdered and who the killer is right off the bat, yet through snippets of the trial, interrogations, flashbacks, and following the characters you end up understanding how everyone ended up playing this crazy thing and why it ended this way. I have to say I became obsessed with the book since the instant I saw it in NetGalley and I'm SO glad this didn't disappoint. Highly recommend it. *book provided by NetGalley. honest review here.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Becky Spratford

    Star review in the SF/F/H Spotlight issue of Booklist in August 2021: http://raforall.blogspot.com/2021/08/... Three Words That Describe This Book: thought provoking, immersive, high anxiety Readalikes: This is a rare treat of a novel that will be devoured by pulp horror fans of titles like The Dark Game by Janz or Kill Creek by Thomas, but will also be enjoyed by those who enjoy Victor LaValle and Colson Whitehead. Star review in the SF/F/H Spotlight issue of Booklist in August 2021: http://raforall.blogspot.com/2021/08/... Three Words That Describe This Book: thought provoking, immersive, high anxiety Readalikes: This is a rare treat of a novel that will be devoured by pulp horror fans of titles like The Dark Game by Janz or Kill Creek by Thomas, but will also be enjoyed by those who enjoy Victor LaValle and Colson Whitehead.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    Great concept, interesting characters, but didn't quite come together the way I'd hoped. This is one of those books where we learn at the beginning that something terrible has happened and then we backtrack to figure out how we got to this point. The "something terrible" is a murder inside of an extreme haunted house. That said, it takes a long time to start to see how these threads will come together. We focus mostly on just 3 characters, and it's a little clunky for a while, since two of them Great concept, interesting characters, but didn't quite come together the way I'd hoped. This is one of those books where we learn at the beginning that something terrible has happened and then we backtrack to figure out how we got to this point. The "something terrible" is a murder inside of an extreme haunted house. That said, it takes a long time to start to see how these threads will come together. We focus mostly on just 3 characters, and it's a little clunky for a while, since two of them are in drastically different circumstances at the beginning of the book so there is a lot of backstory to fill in. But by the time we were halfway through I was invested in them, had a better idea of where we were headed, and was excited to see what was next. Once you get your feet under you the jumping from court transcripts to character backstory to the night of the terrible crime in the haunted house is done really well. The scenes in the haunt were certainly extreme enough to take the reader by surprise, to immerse you in the moment, and to understand the fear and desperation of the characters. They're tense and well-written and they made me want to read a whole book like this from Mattson. (They also stretch credulity because it sure seems like this haunted house is *too* extreme to exist in the real world, but I was willing to give it a pass because like I said it was awfully fun.) Loved the Nebraska setting, a real strength of the story. The Thailand sections also are quite vivid. But this is a tough structure, it falls flat quite often in thrillers where it's one of the most common structures we get. If you don't have some good reveals or a good sense of a slow-burn pace, it can lead to the reader feeling like it wasn't really worth it to get here once they've reached the final destination. This one suffers from too many unanswered questions and too many questions with unsatisfying answers. The explanation for the crime, which is limited, did not work for me at all. The details we do get weren't believable and weren't really shocking. It didn't make chaos into sense, only kept it in chaos. And only seeing 3 characters made me wonder about the others who are involved, I wanted to know what their stories were, too. At the end of the day I just wasn't sure what Mattson was trying to do, why it came together in this particular way. And it didn't help that the explorations of race, sexuality, and other questions of identity were delivered with a heavy hand, often in long monlogues that I can't imagine people saying, particularly in 1999. It's frustrating because Jaidee's story in particular, the regret we get to see from him at the end, is poignant but there wasn't quite enough emotional groundwork laid for it to really ring true the way it could have. And if these issues of the way identity impacted his characters was the big story all along, it doesn't tie in enough with the haunted house elements to make it really work. It felt like two books sewn together where the themes just didn't mesh. I will acknowledge that as a big horror reader and a big crime reader I am also extremely picky about both so I suspect most people won't have nearly as many nits to pick as I did. I know I am suffering somewhat from the fact that I wanted this book to be my perfect horror read and that was an awfully tall order.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Liz Barnsley

    This book is incredible on so many levels its actually quite hard to know where to begin. With the basics I guess. If you are a fan of horror you'll love this. A creepy house, a dangerously addictive game to play where money can be won -if you can face down the scares and don't shout Reprieve. I mean how brilliant is that,especially given that the author has a keen eye for excellent characterisation and will make you love or detest the contestants before their challenge even begins. You also know This book is incredible on so many levels its actually quite hard to know where to begin. With the basics I guess. If you are a fan of horror you'll love this. A creepy house, a dangerously addictive game to play where money can be won -if you can face down the scares and don't shout Reprieve. I mean how brilliant is that,especially given that the author has a keen eye for excellent characterisation and will make you love or detest the contestants before their challenge even begins. You also know this is a game that pulls no punches and not everyone will make it out alive.. But Reprieve serves another purpose. Without giving too much away, this is also a blistering social commentary on the world we live in, on race and identity and the real bias of human interaction whether it is purposeful or not. I adored it. Reprieve is wildly entertaining and also hugely intelligent, written in a literary style that engages throughout and with an immersive, descriptive sense that gets inside your head. Hugely thought provoking whilst covering you in blood. I mean what else could you ask for from your horror novel. Highly Recommended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    The Quigley House was a full contact haunted house that hosted a game where contestants had to get through terrifying obstacles in each room (cells) in an effort to claim a large monetary prize. In 1997, a horrific murder took place during one of these game segments. A member of a four person team was slaughtered right in front of the other contestants’ eyes. This isn’t the story of the horror that took place in that haunted house. This is the story of the people who let it happen. I cannot fatho The Quigley House was a full contact haunted house that hosted a game where contestants had to get through terrifying obstacles in each room (cells) in an effort to claim a large monetary prize. In 1997, a horrific murder took place during one of these game segments. A member of a four person team was slaughtered right in front of the other contestants’ eyes. This isn’t the story of the horror that took place in that haunted house. This is the story of the people who let it happen. I cannot fathom the amount of insight one must possess to write a book as complex as this. James Han Mattson developed incredibly nuanced characters employed with greed, desire, obsession, prejudice, and naïveté. They do not recognize the driving forces of their behaviors. This is, perhaps, the most disturbing aspect of the story - how easily they deceive themselves, which proves frighteningly true to life. Mattson’s work demonstrated the power of subtle suggestion and manipulative persuasion with stunning clarity. This is a startling piece of literature that highlights all that is problematic within human nature and our culture. Although the reader knows who the killer and the victim will be within the first few chapters, making this narrative a question of why, not who, I still found my jaw dropping more than once as it all concluded. Furthermore, Mattson built the tension extremely well. He forced me to get to know all of the players in this game, which caused relentless heartache as I considered the victim’s looming fate. It hurt to get there. It hurt so much. This propulsive story is genuinely tragic and that isn’t simply because of a devastating murder. If the study of human behavior intrigues you, please pick this one up. But be prepared: This ingenious tale was merciless, yet it measured proportionately against the construct of our society. I am indelibly haunted and altered by Reprieve.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Justin Chen

    3.5 stars Fascinating social commentary, but the ambitious genre-bending plot struggles to convince at times, Reprieve is being marketed as a 'literary novel of social horror', and I find that to be spot-on, and an useful label to set one's expectation accordingly: this is a novel about the experience of discrimination (race, social class, sexual orientation, etc.) first and foremost, that just so happens to feature a full-contact haunted house attraction (which evolves into a pseudo-metaphor as 3.5 stars Fascinating social commentary, but the ambitious genre-bending plot struggles to convince at times, Reprieve is being marketed as a 'literary novel of social horror', and I find that to be spot-on, and an useful label to set one's expectation accordingly: this is a novel about the experience of discrimination (race, social class, sexual orientation, etc.) first and foremost, that just so happens to feature a full-contact haunted house attraction (which evolves into a pseudo-metaphor as the plot thickens). More Jordan Peele's Us than the movie Escape Room—don't go into this expecting a fast-paced thrill. I really enjoy the structure of Reprieve; told through broken segments of courtroom transcript, events leading up to the fatal incident at the attraction, as well as 'origin story' of it racially diverse cast of characters. The novel has a lot of ground to cover, and the assortment of its format keeps the pacing concise without the unnecessary in-between. It's message regarding racism in America is quite on the nose, but not to the point of annoyance. I particularly enjoy the unpacking of Asian countries' fetishism for (White) American culture—which is something I have personally experienced (being Chinese and raised in Taiwan), and haven't really seen referenced in any American novel. The horror element is competent, though its moment in the spotlight is quite limited. Reprieve allots most of its page count on the characters (we follow 3 primarily), which is a shame because it happens to be its weakest link. The character arc clunky, with behavior that feels unrealistic in comparison to the grounded commentary on societal topics. The displacement between soap opera caricature (particularly the character who turned 'villainous'—one of the most unclear, least logical character development I've read) and serious discussion conjures an unpleasant dissonance that lingers throughout the book's entirety. I appreciate Reprieve in fragments: it's overarching concept, the narrative structure, and how the somber topics are incorporated and discussed (the 'spectacle' in the finale definitely hits a chord in regard to recent event). However, one can't overlook the importance of character, and Reprieve lost me every time its character behaving unreasonably simply to serve the plot. Overall, I applaud James Han Mattson for his aspiration, and definitely curious to see what he will write next! **This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated!**

  24. 5 out of 5

    k_dorman

    I'm truly without words after reading Reprieve. Reprieve is told through a mix of courtroom transcripts and narratives of each of the books characters. Through the book you get to meet Kendra Brown, Leonard Grandton, and Jaidee Charoensuk, whose lives get intermixed with the famous Quigley House, a "full contact" escape room where each cell (room) gets more intense and terrifying. Once the words reprieve are spoken the game is over. You get to know about each of the characters and how their lives I'm truly without words after reading Reprieve. Reprieve is told through a mix of courtroom transcripts and narratives of each of the books characters. Through the book you get to meet Kendra Brown, Leonard Grandton, and Jaidee Charoensuk, whose lives get intermixed with the famous Quigley House, a "full contact" escape room where each cell (room) gets more intense and terrifying. Once the words reprieve are spoken the game is over. You get to know about each of the characters and how their lives brought them to that fateful night at the Quigley House. It starts with Kendra Brown, a teenager, who is forced to move to Lincoln, Nebraska after the sudden death of her father. Kendra is different than most teens, for one she loves all things scary and dark, which attracts her to the Quigley house. Then you meet Jaidee, an international student, grappling with his sexuality and trying to navigate his way at his new college. Jaidee struggles to fit in and feels the need to Americanize himself so that more people like him. Then you meet Leonard Grandton, a hotel manager who dreams of starting his own hotel but also struggles with his own personal relationship and finds himself in toxic and unhealthy relationships. The book does an excellent job of discussing topics of racism, sexuality, and the world's obsession with horror. All important topics especially with everything that has gone on over the last year and a half. I honestly couldn't put this book down and loved how the book flowed between past and present and how the courtroom interviews were intermixed between the various chapters. It was a slow-burn suspense-filled thriller with excellent character development and gorgeous imagery of characters and scenery. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for their next thriller to read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    James Han Mattson’s Reprieve is a thriller that’s suspense gets lost in the weeds. Quigley House is a cutting edge haunted house in Lincoln Nebraska where the actors attack you and survival wins you $60,000. A cast of characters come together in this book to take on the Quigley challenge and in doing so pull back the curtain on the various ways race and racism permeate and define the world. A Thai immigrant, a Black college student, and a white heterosexual couple come together for the challenge James Han Mattson’s Reprieve is a thriller that’s suspense gets lost in the weeds. Quigley House is a cutting edge haunted house in Lincoln Nebraska where the actors attack you and survival wins you $60,000. A cast of characters come together in this book to take on the Quigley challenge and in doing so pull back the curtain on the various ways race and racism permeate and define the world. A Thai immigrant, a Black college student, and a white heterosexual couple come together for the challenge but the racial dynamics cause massive error that haunts them for years to come. If Reprieve were half as long as it is, it would be a fine book with good thrills and suspense. But the story takes too long to get off the ground and readers spend hundreds of pages in the weeds before any suspense even occurs. And despite being a 400 page book, all of the characters are flat and massive cliches. The racial critique of whiteness that the book is meant to convey is important and on point but such a heavy hand and boring story makes the book hard to read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy Middleton

    Rating: 2.5 As soon as I stumbled across Reprieve and read what it was about, I was hooked and I couldn’t wait to read it! Unfortunately, I have come away from this book feeling really disappointed. The synopsis of this book leads you to believe that it takes place inside an escape room, and that we will be following our characters as they combat the horrors of each cell and face monstrous tasks. In reality, we actually spend very little time inside each cell, with most of the chapters exploring Rating: 2.5 As soon as I stumbled across Reprieve and read what it was about, I was hooked and I couldn’t wait to read it! Unfortunately, I have come away from this book feeling really disappointed. The synopsis of this book leads you to believe that it takes place inside an escape room, and that we will be following our characters as they combat the horrors of each cell and face monstrous tasks. In reality, we actually spend very little time inside each cell, with most of the chapters exploring the characters’ backgrounds and lives before Quigley House. Which would be fine, if the characters backgrounds weren’t largely irrelevant and a bit of a boring slog to read. It’s a shame because the chapters that DO take place inside each cell are really enjoyable to read. These are by far the most immersive and exciting parts, if a little bit rushed. I just wish this had been the focus! The characters are also incredibly flawed, unlikeable, and have almost no redeeming qualities - I can appreciate that this was likely intentional but it doesn’t take away the fact that it made me feel very uneasy at points. Kendra was not so bad, however Jaidee and Leonard were repugnant and I didn’t enjoy reading their chapters at all. Jaidee’s racism is disturbing and unpleasant to read, whilst Leonard’s sexist and misogynistic views and aggressively relentless pursuit of a Thai prostitute is uncomfortable to say the least. Ultimately, no frights are delivered, there were no twists or turns, and no murder mystery. Very little excitement is to be found in Reprieve. I struggled to see the psychological horror that many have praised this book for, and the ‘social criticism’ felt forced. I can appreciate the intent, but the execution just wasn’t there. I will say that this book did succeed in making me feel uncomfortable, though perhaps for the wrong reasons. On several occasions the author is unnecessarily sexual completely out of nowhere. For example, within the first few pages we’re subjected to the line ‘her breasts were free and pendulous against her ribcage’, - this line of description occurs at a funeral by the way. Also, an adult male author discussing the sex life of an underage girl just unsettles me, honestly. I think it’s clear that I’m disappointed by Reprieve. I really did want to love it. There was a lot of potential for this to be an exciting thriller set within an escape room but it really falls short, instead trying to provide a powerful social commentary without adding any new or interesting observations. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. On this occasion, this one just wasn’t for me unfortunately.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Angus (Just Angus)

    A thriller about a murder at a full contact haunted escape room? Sounds too good to be true. And sadly, it was. There was just too much going on here that nothing really landed for me. I appreciate what this book was trying to do, and I loved the way Mattson weaved some serious social commentary into the book, but in the end nothing stuck. 2.5 stars.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    3.5 stars Review to come.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    I read a little bit of everything, and Reprieve was exactly that - a little bit of everything! There is a mystery, a romance, some horror, and the story is told from multiple viewpoints in a variety of ways (first person, third person, plus some court transcripts throughout). The story can also be examined at a deeper level to provide commentary on race, capitalism, and nationalism. I initially chose this book because the main setting is a full-contact, "haunted" escape room. Participants can win I read a little bit of everything, and Reprieve was exactly that - a little bit of everything! There is a mystery, a romance, some horror, and the story is told from multiple viewpoints in a variety of ways (first person, third person, plus some court transcripts throughout). The story can also be examined at a deeper level to provide commentary on race, capitalism, and nationalism. I initially chose this book because the main setting is a full-contact, "haunted" escape room. Participants can win a cash prize if they make it through all of the rooms in the Quigley House without someone on their team using the safe word "reprieve." While escape rooms are fun and can be quite challenging, the Quigley House is not an attraction I would sign up for! If you don't mind a little gore, or can skim through it, Reprieve is an intriguing novel I'd recommend for adults and teens. It kept me hooked through the last page! –Diana F.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea | thrillerbookbabe

    This book was a fantastic narrative of social justice mixed with a chilling horror story. Thank you so much to James Han Mattson and William Morrow for my copy of this amazing book. It was about a full contact escape room in Lincoln Nebraska that brings guests from all over to compete for the grand prize. The book follows a few characters who competed in the escape room and the events before and after someone was killed. It was a completely unique premise and told from many points of view. Though This book was a fantastic narrative of social justice mixed with a chilling horror story. Thank you so much to James Han Mattson and William Morrow for my copy of this amazing book. It was about a full contact escape room in Lincoln Nebraska that brings guests from all over to compete for the grand prize. The book follows a few characters who competed in the escape room and the events before and after someone was killed. It was a completely unique premise and told from many points of view. Thoughts: I loved this book. It was a scathing commentary on hate politics, racial injustice, capitalism, and our obsession with fear in entertainment. The poignant storyline mixed with the horror of the escape room created a book that I was unable to put down. I thought each character’s point of view was unique and interesting and added a lot to the story. The idea of the Quigley House was so interesting and told in such a scary way. I loved that this book was set in Lincoln because I lived there and could imagine all the places that Mattson talked about. The issues of race in Nebraska are still prevalent and so I thought this was specifically a great topic. The murder was so sad and I wish that the book had ended differently, but I understand why the author went the way he did. It did feel like a mix of many genres which could be a bit confusing at times. Nevertheless, this story was fantastic and unique and I recommend reading it with an open mind. 4-stars!

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