Partway through Marisha Pessl’s second novel, “Night Film,” I began to feel as if I had been taken hostage by the book. This, I should hasten to add, is not its intent. The saga of a legendary film director, Stanislas Cordova, and the suicide of his 24-year-old daughter, Ashley, “Night Film” is willfully portentous, claustrophobic even, a novel that means to explore hidden meanings, in which each turn seems to unveil another layer until illusion and reality begin to merge. It is also, at 600-plus pages, at least a third too long, an overwrought narrative that hints at much but delivers little and, for all its feints and twists, remains surprisingly unsuspenseful in the end.
But other than that …
To offer something from another perspective, Joe Hill has complaints but also compliments:
Still and all, “Night Film” has been precision-engineered to be read at high velocity, and its energy would be the envy of any summer blockbuster. Your average writer of thrillers should lust for Pessl’s deft touch with character.
Pessl is at her best here, when she’s least ambitious and her focus is pinned to her three amateur detectives as they negotiate the unmapped terrain of affection and trust in sweet, breezy dialogue: “I told you. I love you. And not as a friend or a boss, but real love. I’ve known it for 24 hours,” Nora tells McGrath, who responds, “Sounds like a stomach bug that will pass.”
In simple, unadorned moments like these, when her heroes seem at least as interested in one another as in a dead girl or absent auteur, “Night Film” settles into the relaxed rhythms of a Ross Macdonald mystery, with a dirt and hunger and guileless laughter that are all Pessl’s own.
Don’t think I will be picking this one anytime soon but, as we like to say around here, your mileage may vary.