Night Film is a private investigation thriller with touches of the supernatural. P. I. Scott McGrath has already damaged his reputation looking into the affairs of a mysterious film director named Stanislas Cordova. Cordova is no longer making his disturbing pictures, and the director remains an enigmatic, reclusive figure to the verylast of Night Film’s almost 600 pages.
Cordova’s films are always on macabre subjects. Actors working on them report being traumatized by the experience. McGrath tries to recover from the failure of his earlier investigation by looking into the unexplained death of Cordova’s young adult daughter.
Night Film is a very long book, but not all of it is text. The first thing noticed is how the story advances through documentary evidence: photographs, official forms, newspaper web pages, text messages, and mock social media entries. These all give critical information to solve the puzzle. But I say take the next step, imagine a special e-reader edition, and now add some animation and put it on You Tube.
This is a new kind of storytelling. It’s the computer-age equivalent of the rhetorical horror stories of H. P. Lovecraft. In these, tension is created by the mere accumulation of detail and pseudo-documentary evidence. The graphics present a challenge to both author and publisher. It must have taken a lot of work to assemble.
McGrath has two young people, Nora and Hopper, to help in the investigation. Both have a personal interest in the mysterious Cordova. The more they dig into Cordova’s affairs, the more they appear to be in physical danger, but from whom? Even witchcraft and voodoo appear to threaten our heroes at one point.
Finally, McGrath makes a direct assault on The Peak, Cordova’s castle estate in the Adirondacks. This is where Cordova’s films were produced. After scary scenes probing subterranean passageways, McGrath locates an individual who may be Cordova. Or is He?
Some of the graphics that fill so many pages of Night Film simply defy explanation. In the middle of Chapter 91, pages 421 and 422 are printed in total black for dramatic effect. Chapter 94 begins on page 485 after another blackened page.
Night Film is basically a good mystery thriller although a bit long for my taste. Marisha Pessl has written Special Topics in Calamity Physics, also a thriller. The multi-media pyrotechnics are an interesting idea. They do advance the story, and we’ll likely see more of this kind of thing in the future. – Dan Erwine
Also available by Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics