Book Review: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay
By Ray PalenOctober 8, 2019
Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that does for elevators what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the beach—a heart-pounding tale in which a series of disasters paralyzes New York City with fear.
The term “elevator pitch” is a reference to the amount of time a fledgling writer/singer/performing artist would have if they were stuck on an elevator with someone who could change their life (i.e., agent, producer, editor). The individual making the pitch would have only the time it takes for the person they are pitching to reach their floor in that elevator, which is a very short period of time to impress.
Some artists never get the opportunity to make their elevator pitch, while others might stumble on to the chance and blow it due to being unprepared. It’s obvious Canadian author Linwood Barclay was successful in whatever “elevator pitch” he had to make to get the idea for his first novel published. Boy, are we glad he did because he has brought readers decades of some of the best suspense and psychological thrillers on the market.
Ironically, his latest novel, entitled Elevator Pitch, features an opening sequence that finds a scriptwriter named Stuart Bland disguising himself as a Fed Ex delivery person to get his own elevator pitch with the producer he has been trying to impress. Unfortunately, this novel is about a different kind of elevator pitch, as the individuals on this elevator become part of the first set of victims of a killer who is using control of New York City elevators to enact a complex revenge scheme.
I have to admit that at 450 pages, I found the large amount of characters and passages that didn’t seem to drive the plot at the time an indication there might not be much payoff. But I could not stop turning the pages, and all 450 of them went whipping by. I needed to have faith in Linwood Barclay, who has always been a top-notch plotter and creator of complex characters, because Elevator Pitch ended up an exciting and highly suspenseful read. While there weren’t too many likeable characters, it works here, as several—whether they be terrorists or politicians—deserve our scorn.
New York City is being held hostage when someone starts taking control of elevators and sending them plummeting to the bottom of their respective buildings, killing and badly injuring those on board. Throughout the novel, I realized a lot of information was given but no true villain was identified. It reminded me of Stephen Spielberg’s film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws, where Bruce the shark doesn’t make an appearance until over an hour into the film. Linwood Barclays “Bruce” is an electronic mastermind who is lurking out there waiting to take another group of unsuspecting New Yorkers on a one-way elevator ride to hell. Believe me, this wasn’t the Hollywood Tower of Terror ride at Walt Disney World—these were actual elevators plunging their occupants to their gruesome deaths.
Barclay throws a plethora of characters at his readers, and you may need a scorecard to keep them all straight. The closest thing to a protagonist in Elevator Pitch is journalist Barbara Matheson, who does whatever it takes to get to the bottom of her stories. Her main target and regular adversary is New York City Mayor Headley—one of the more unlikeable characters in the novel. Accompanying the Mayor is a team of various individuals whose main job is to have his back and spin any and all stories to make him look good. That’s not an easy task, especially when he is regularly criticized for the demeaning way he treats his son, Glover, who also is on his team. There is also a pair of NYPD Detectives—Delgado and Borque—who are real pit bulls when chasing their case.
When you add other elements like a missing elevator repairman and a husband and wife team who are members of a United States Nationalist terrorist organization known as the Flyovers, you have plenty of ways Barclay could take this novel. The trick is to try to identify which plot elements are red herrings and which might actually reveal who is responsible. Things get crazy when—like how all flights were grounded following the 9/11 attacks—the Mayor in this novel shuts down every elevator in NYC until they can dig up clues as to who is behind the handful of elevator attacks. The finale, set at the top of one of NYC’s tallest skyscrapers, is a nail-biting one. Elevator Pitch proves to be well worth however much time you have to sit back and enjoy some great psychological suspense from one of the best thriller writers in the game.