SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: must-read
True ingenuity in a novel is hard to find, and Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut has it in spades. Much like its resort setting, SECURITY is a cutting-edge novel that showcases its creator’s impeccable design and eye for detail. Wohlsdorf writes a razor-sharp thriller with a clinical approach to gore, guaranteed to unsettle even the most seasoned crime reader. While this read won’t appeal to every crime fiction fan, I’m quite confident readers looking for an inventive and twisted take on a plot worthy of Stephen King will be hooked.
Enter the Manderley Resort, a luxury hotel in California. As final preparations are made for the hotel’s grand opening, the hotel staff has no idea that someone is determined to keep the hotel’s doors permanently closed. Narrated by an anonymous third party—a Big Brother-like presence in the hotel—the reader witnesses a masked killer stalking the grounds, quietly picking off the staff one by one with ruthless precision. Before the night is up, the hotel will turn from the image of pristine comfort to a blood-soaked crime scene. SECURITY is a riveting thriller unparalleled in its creative approach to a cat-and-mouse game, where the hunted are blind to their fate, and the even the hunter might soon become prey.
There are so many qualities that make Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut a standout, but the first and most impressive is her truly original voice. Wohlsdorf writes with a detached clarity that might irritate some readers—neither she nor her narrator have compassion for her characters and their suffering, and I loved it that way. She writes like a puppet-master totally detached from the fate of her puppets, ever manipulating and never showing mercy. Don’t be mistaken, this book is gory—there are scenes in this book that made me cringe. But the gore isn’t what scared me most about SECURITY. What scared me most was the sterility with which the gore is described. There’s something incredibly unnerving about reading a scene quite literally gushing with blood, yet realizing that the narrator feels nothing for the victims. It’s an incredibly effective tactic, and it held my attention (and kept me scared) throughout.
The format of this book is also fascinating. Readers will notice that each chapter is titled by the security camera through which the action can be witnessed—our unnamed narrator has access to the hotel’s security system, making him an omniscient presence throughout the novel. As we pivot from camera to camera, the book occasionally changes format: a page will be laid out in a grid-like structure, with each square providing a glimpse into the action simultaneously occurring on different cameras. For example, in the photo below, the top left quadrant might describe what can be seen through Camera 1, top right through Camera 2, etc.
It took me a moment to figure out what was going on when I first encountered these pages, but I quickly fell in love with this device. This structure drives the action forward, and lends an almost frantic pace to the story—I couldn’t wait to jump to the next “camera,” and see what other horrors were unfolding there.
Last but certainly not least, this story’s ending was almost more shocking to me than the violence depicted within it. When the mystery behind the unnamed narrator is finally revealed at the novel’s end, my heart simply broke. The last line of the book alone left me in tears. Wrapped up in a gory, twisted, and heartless novel, Wohlsdorf has written a tragic and oddly beautiful love story. While continuing to write with her trademark sterility, Wohlsdorf draws readers into the heart of a seemingly unlovable character, whose ultimate sacrifice moved me in a way I never saw coming.
Who do I think might not like SECURITY? If you are irritated by detached, third party narrators, this definitely isn't the book for you. The beauty of this book is truly its omniscient-yet-unfeeling narrator, but I can imagine that some readers might be looking for a more engaged voice to lead them into a mystery. Similarly, if you prefer to read about characters with whom you can deeply connect, this won't be the book for you—Wohlsdorf writes characters who are intentionally disposable, yet another manifestation of the wonderfully twisted sterility with which she describes the violent ends of innocent lives.
So what’s the verdict? SECURITY introduces a fresh, inventive talent to the crime fiction scene. The influence of horror “greats” like Stephen King and Edgar Alan Poe can be felt heavily throughout this novel, but Wohlsdorf infuses the story with a madness all her own. I will be recommending this book for years to come.