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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Dutton, 381 pages, $26

It’s a good thing it’s summer as I write this, because “Lock Every Door” is a summer read. It’s got Gothic thrills and chills, an intimation of a coven, and a harkening back to the claustrophobic apartment building of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Oh, my.

Jules (not a nickname, she points out) Larsen is twenty-five and poor as a churchmouse. She has just lost her job and found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. She is homeless in Manhattan and penniless, with no family and only one true friend, Chloe. It is with Chloe that Jules is staying while she looks to gather her wits and restart her life. Chloe is wonderful, but she has her own life to live and her apartment is small. When Jules spots an advertisement for an apartment sitter, it seems to answer a couple of her most urgent needs: money and a place to stay.

And what a place it is! The Bartholomew (along the lines of “The Dakota”) is a place out of Jules’ favorite book, “Heart of a Dreamer,” by Greta Manville. As teenagers in Pennsylvania coal country, Jules and her sister Jane read the book and dreamed of life in the big city, along the lines of the book’s heroine, Ginny, who lived in The Bartholomew. Now she is being shown around a fabulous apartment on the top floor of that very real building, with a fabulous view of Central Park and lurking gargoyles. And she gets paid $1000 once a week, in cash! Wowee wow wow! But you know the saying about if something is too good to be true ...

The caretaker job comes with some restrictions, very odd restrictions. No one can ever visit Jules. She may not spend a night away from the apartment. She may not post anything on social media. She may not initiate contact with anyone else in the building. Privacy concerns, you know. Most of the permanent residents are rich and famous and “vant to be alone.” Most of the ones she spots seem standoffish anyway. There’s the old man with his nurse toddling up and down the stairs for exercise. There’s the old woman with her yappy dog always going for walks. And then there’s the old woman who ... OMG, she’s Greta Manville, the author of Jules’ favorite book! Could that be why her book is placed in The Bartholomew? She herself is a resident! Jules longs to talk with her and risks breaking a rule to make contact.

The wonder of The Bartholomew is compromised when Jules hears a noise in the night. Is it coming from her fabulous and richly appointed living room? She slowly descends from her richly appointed bedroom, down her marvelously constructed spiral staircase only to find no one and nothing.

It is true that Jules has nightmares anyway. Her older sister Jane disappeared when they were teenagers. One day she stepped out of the shop where she worked part-time and into a mysterious car, and then she was gone, without a trace. In her dreams, Jules relives that. That story haunts Jules’ increasingly difficult experience at The Bartholomew.

Jules almost immediately makes a friend in the building, another young woman named Ingrid Gallagher. Ingrid’s cheeriness balances Jules’ recalcitrance. But their friendship ends abruptly when Ingrid disappears. Jules is told that Ingrid just dropped her keys on the lobby floor and vanished into the night. A large part of the book is given to Jules’ search for Ingrid.

Perhaps the sequel to “Lock Every Door” will be “The Phone Call Is Coming from Inside Your House,” because although the story takes place in Manhattan, the feeling is of a suburban horror movie.

The ending was a little goofy but that is appropriate for a summer read, don’t you think?

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