The Plot

Summary clip on top of book cover

Quigley House is a full-contact immersive horror haunted house. Contestants in teams try to complete five cells full of their worst nightmares ala the worst escape room ever, racing to win a $60,000 prize.

We follow the story through three perspectives that alternate. All three perspectives were people present the night that a team of four took on Quigley House and one died. The details of the night swim around you as you hear from:

Kendra – a parking lot attendant at Quigley whose cousin Bryan is in the game

Jaidee – Bryan’s college roommate who is also in the game

and Leonard – an acquaintance of John Forrester, the man who owns Quigley House.

The alternating chapters drop into flashbacks from these three characters lives and are interspersed with the present where chapters take place in each cell and detail the Quigley House horror experience.

James Mattson with his book in a bookstore

Parallels to the Infamous McKamey Manor

It is easy to draw parallels between the fictional Quigley House and the real McKamey Manor, also known for its full-contact, torture chambers filled with sadistic actors punishing their participants. McKamey Manor has had its share of bad publicity. However, all participants are willing to undergo the waterboarding and hair cutting and bruises that they are given inside the experience.

It is hard not to believe that Mattson has based his understanding and creation of Quigley House on McKamey Manor. John Forrester, the owner of Quigley House, throughout the whole novel is suspect. He is up to no good and damages people in the way of his dream of making Quigley House legendarily famous.

McKamey Manor also used to boast a $20,000 prize for anyone able to survive their entire tour while ranges from eight to ten hours. Russ McKamey ended the potential for prize money as he thought the wrong kinds of people beginning to partake were not what he intended for the horror house. He began to see those desperate for cash and willing to do anything rather than the horror lovers and masochists who are truly willing to experience McKamey Manor for their own personal, internal reasons.

Many have strong opinions on McKamey Manor and whether Russ McKamey and his actors are just sadists legally able to enact dark fantasies of pain out on their participants. Mattson created a similar concept in Quigley House, and presents John Forrester as very similar to Russ McKamey. Mattson makes us question Forrester’s behaviors and reasons for creating Quigley House and the unsavory methods he will go through the make Quigley House profitable and famous.

The Verdict

review from Rumaan Alam

This is not your standard horror novel. This is the most brilliant social horror novel that gives gore but comments on important social and racial issues. Color me stunned and impressed. Rumaan Alam praises Mattson’s Reprieve, and this is an opinion to listen to. Alam has created some of the best unsettling stories of the thriller genre. You can read my review of Alam’s Leave the World Behind here.

Mattson uses diverse main character perspectives to create social commentary on the fetishization of race. It is hard to imagine how a horror novel can do such a thing, but Mattson joins writers like Brian Evenson and creates literary horror fiction in Reprieve. Race and manipulation lie in the underbelly of this story and readers will feel it crawl under their skin.

The genre of literary horror is quickly emerging to be a subcategory of horror to watch. It makes us consider our actions and our place in the world while still delivering a gory punch to the gut. Many who did not enjoy this novel did not expect the literary qualities of the text. Just know what you are taking on when diving in and emerge mind blown.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Click the link below to read Reprieve now!

About the Author

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms.

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