A thriller about an irascible horror author with an overactive imagination.
Thom Hearn is a writer who sees elements of horror everywhere and who sizes up everyone he meets as potential fodder for new characters. Carrie Alexander is a Type A personality in hedge fund management. They’re soon thrown together at a conference for big names in banking, business, and science, among many other fields, after both characters are almost killed in an airplane accident. But once they make it to the conference, even stranger things start to happen. The resort they’re staying at looks like a tropical paradise, but it feels somehow artificial to Thom; he also feels like he’s being watched. He quickly finds out that Carrie feels the same way, and so do others at the conference. Thom also develops a healthy mistrust of Hermod, the golden boy running the whole operation. Carroll’s (The Great Liars, 2014, etc.) novel offers a creative mashup of elements from Romancing the Stone, The Stepford Wives, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He creates some fantastic oddities for his characters to navigate, including a public murder that no one seems to know anything about the next day; later, Thom even confronts one of his own fictional characters. It’s all very unsettling in a very pleasing way, and readers will find it hard to guess what’s coming next. Still, as entertaining as it all is, there are a few flaws. For example, Carroll opens with the thrilling action of the aforementioned airplane mishap, but then the narrative bounces back and forth, via flashbacks, to set up how Thom and Carrie each came to be on that plane, which muddies the waters for readers. Later, Thom thinks about his writing operation back home during jungle-survival scenes, and the transitions between the two are a bit rough.
An imaginative, engaging story despite minor distractions.