Book Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

Book Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

I received a free copy of Reprieve from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my onw.


On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.

Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.

My Review:

I was completely engrossed in this book from the first page. The short introduction let’s the reader know some serious sh*t went down, and then we get to meet Kendra, Jaidee, Bryan and a variety of other very strongly developed characters. I love how much care Mattson put into each of these characters as well as the diversity they each represented. There are themes of racism, sexuality, and prejudice woven into these pages which made for a rich, dynamic story.

This book is marketed as horror, and the Quigley House brought it for sure! I loved the short descriptions of what goes on in the full contact haunted attraction, it really built up the tension by adding it in a piece at a time, or should I say a “cell” at a time.

However, by about the 75% mark, I felt like the novel took a turn, and it went more in the direction of the characters, their interactions with each other, and their personal storylines colliding. It started to feel like two separate books: a horror novel, and contemporary fiction. While I loved the diversity and inclusion of deeper social elements at the beginning, by the end I was disappointed. The resolution for the horror portion of the book and what happened at Quigley House was so rushed I was confused. More effort was put into the resolution of the characters issues with themselves and each other. I was all set to give this one five stars, but the ending left me wanting more and I settled with four stars. I did still enjoy the book overall, and I appreciate what Mattson was trying to do and will look forward to more from this talented writer. 

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