NO EXIT Review
Thirteen hours. Four strangers. One missing child. No exit.
NO EXIT by author Taylor Adams (EYESHOT, OUR LAST NIGHT) is a 2019 thriller novel which follows one night in the life of Colorado college student Darby Thorne as she drives to Utah, where her mother has been recently hospitalized with pancreatic cancer. Due to a worsening blizzard and the poor state of her car, Darby is forced to take shelter in a small highway rest stop just outside Boulder with four other travelers trapped by the storm. There they wait for snowplows to come and clear the roads once again, armed only with a few pots of stale coffee, a stack of worn playing cards, and each other’s company.
While outside searching for an elusive cellular signal, Darby passes by one of the few vehicles in the rest stop’s parking lot: a large van covered in flayed stickers. A momentary glimpse inside one of the van’s windows and Darby swears she catches the face of a young girl bound within, gone in a blink of her eyes. Did she actually see what she thinks she did, or was it merely a trick of the moonlight dancing against glass? And, if there really is a girl held against her will in the back of this van, which one of her fellow travelers could be the van’s owner?
What follows is a descent into chaos as Darby races to bring this culprit to light, all while searching for anyone she can trust to help subdue them until authorities arrive.
NO EXIT Story
NO EXIT contains all we’ve come to expect from the thriller genre: rising suspense, plenty of action, and unsettling imagery that will leave you with goosebumps. However, what stands out as impressive is Adams’ ability to seamlessly sneak in moments of humor that come across as neither jarring nor out of place. Darby especially is quick-witted and genuinely funny in the face of her many ordeals, often utilizing cynicism as a coping mechanism when matters become truly dire. A well-executed feat by Adams which causes many a book to fall flat on its face, especially when it comes to thrillers and horror.
The remaining characters aren’t without their own unique quirks, though they all share a kind of irritated compliance with one another that will feel all too familiar to anyone who has ever experienced long periods of time in a confined space among strangers. This creates several awkward situations that serve well to soothe or stoke the mounting tension taking root as the book continues. What starts out as amusing quickly plunges into maniacal, and one can all but feel the air thicken as the hours tick by.
The prose, much like the plot, is fast-paced and in-your-face, leaving very few moments that seem appropriate to put the book down. The dialog and interactions between characters are natural and flowing, giving the reader a firm image of each individual’s personality and traits without resorting to wordy info-dumps or the all-too-familiar “telling without showing.” By the story’s end, one cannot help but feel empathy for every last one of them, if only for a fleeting moment in certain cases. Or, if not empathy, certainly a small dose of understanding as each of the characters’ stories unfold page after page.
With all novels, however, NO EXIT is not without some faults. The first that immediately jumps out is the setting –strangers trapped together during a snowstorm— which has long been one of the kings of clichés within horror, thriller, and mystery genres. Adams remedies this as best he can by presenting the story in a unique location that is both modern and relatable to most readers: the highway rest stop. Old coffee, pamphlet racks, unkempt bathrooms, and no cellular signal all truly embody the “cabin in the woods” of our time, and it provides a welcome breath of fresh air to what is widely regarded as equal to “it was a dark and stormy night.”
Praise is certainly due for the amount of plot twists offered in this book, but there is something to be said for how most of them are executed. What separates a good twist from a great twist is the amount of information tucked into the scenes leading up to the pivotal moment: too little and the twist seems forced, while too much will give everything away and it isn’t a twist at all.
Unfortunately, NO EXIT tends to lean on the former side, with many reveals emerging seemingly out of nowhere to the point where the book recaps “clues” within Darby’s inner monologue just to remind us they were actually there. This made things feel a bit last-minute at some points, which is a shame considering the book’s overall exquisite pacing.
One final note is that of the speed at which this book reads. Taking place over only a single night and written in such a way that seems at times almost break-neck, the avid reader will find themselves finishing NO EXIT rather quickly, with some perhaps taking only a weekend before flipping the back cover over.
NO EXIT is a thriller that ropes in some of the best aspects of the classic “who-done-it” mystery. The book hits the ground running with suspense that doesn’t stop until the last page falls, and the sheer multitude of twists and turns will keep even the most analytical of readers on the edge of their seats as to where the plot might possibly go next. Any small hiccups are almost instantly overpowered by a whirlwind of relentless mystery, action, and gripping terror that will have your heart pumping long after the book is back on your shelf.
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