Like a Bad Neighbor

‘Lock Every Door’: the NYC Gig Economy Turns Deadly

Jules has dreamed of the Bartholomew since she was a little girl.

The historic New York apartment building figured prominently in “Heart of a Dreamer,” the ‘80s-era best-seller Jules pored over regularly, imagining an upscale Manhattan lifestyle that seemed completely out of reach in her ramshackle duplex.

And it was, until she sees the ad on Craigslist.

Jules can’t believe her luck when, tucked in amidst the other Help Wanted notices, she discovers a request for an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew. The Chanel-clad interviewer lays out the rules: Jules must spend every night in the apartment. No bothering the other rich and semi-famous residents. And absolutely no visitors. The owners of the other units pay handsomely for their privacy. In exchange, Jules will get $12,000 for three months of work. It’s particularly well-timed, as she’s just lost her job.

 

Yet this iteration of the gig economy is not kind to Jules in Lock Every Door, the new thriller from Final Girls author Riley Sager. The Bartholomew is legendary not just for its gargoyle-adorned architecture, but for the myriad of deaths that have happened within its walls. Quickly, so quickly, things start to devolve.

The ornate floral wallpaper morphs into endless sets of eyes, watching. The apartment sitter downstairs insists on a meeting in Central Park where no one will overhear them. The hunky doctor who lives in 12B adorns his kitchen with a painting of an ouroboros, or a snake eating its own tail.

“It’s supposed to represent the cyclical nature of the universe,” hot Dr. Nick says as he stitches up Jules’ arm after an accident in the lobby. “Birth, life, death, rebirth.” (Please enjoy this harbinger of doom along with our in-building urgent care opportunities!)

Identifying these precursors of peril is part of the fun of reading good thrillers. We know immediately from the hospital-set prologue that Jules has run out of the Bartholomew in such a blind panic that a car hits her in the street.  The interviewer asks pointedly about Jules’ next of kin and her health status. And hey, the lady who wrote “Heart of a Dreamer”still lives in the building.

Having our suspicions chillingly confirmed certainly makes for diverting reading, and Sager is a master at delivering jump scares in lean, staccato prose. He dedicates Lock Every Door to Ira Levin, who wrote Rosemary’s Baby, populated with friendly neighborhood Satanists. Yet he also pivots this reboot in a completely unexpected direction. It’s a smart plot move that elevates Lock Every Door beyond just an updated classic.

In addition, the recurring theme of Jules’ money woes both informs why she agrees to the apartment-sitting gig in the first place and reflects the hand-to-mouth existence of too many nowadays:

“Because here’s the thing about being poor – most people don’t understand it unless they’ve been there themselves. …

“They’re never written a check with trembling hands, praying there’ll be enough in their account to cover it.

“They’ve never waited for their paycheck to be directly deposited at the stroke of midnight because their wallet is empty and their credit cards are maxed and they desperately need to pay for gas.

“And food.

“And a prescription that’s gone unfilled for an entire week.”

But despite Sager’s timely observations about personal finance, the truth about the Bartholomew’s residents is the real star here. No spoilers, but the book’s title is beyond apt.

(Dutton/Penguin, July 2, 2019)

Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *