Escape! By Ian Rob Wright is a horror and suspense novel set in an escape room. It was a team-building exercise for Alscon Tiles set up in response to an offer from an event organizer named Retribution, Inc. John, the company manager, had asked Howard Moss (Happy) the office manager to check out the company. The name of the event organizer had triggered no signals to the two officers that anything was wrong. Even when Retribution, Inc. had directed which six employees should show up at the remote farm where the exercise was to take place, no danger signals bothered the employees.
Instructions from the events company directed that the six participants would find instructions upon their arrival at the farm. They were to be one of several teams; the winning team would receive USD 1000 each. After a 90-minute time limit spent trying to solve puzzles and escape the room, the team would be taken to a hotel whether they solved the problem or not. At the hotel, officials would announce the winner. It sounded like a fun couple of days from a weekend.
Problems developed before the team even left the office on the Friday before the event. Cheryl was a comparatively new employee; she had only been with the company for three months. She hadn’t been invited to this event, and she was resentful. When Maggie asked Cheryl to replace her on the trip, Cheryl was still put off and didn’t want to go. Once Maggie explained it was her wedding anniversary with husband Andrew, Cheryl reluctantly agreed to join the six-person team for the exercise.
The second problem happened as the team assembled in the countryside farm buildings. Maggie showed up, and the six-person team was now seven. If Cheryl was resentful before, she would be seething if she were forced to return home. John, CEO, and owner of Alscon Tiles decided an exception could be made, and Cheryl was permitted to join the team. The next problem was what to do next. No humans met the group with instructions. One part of the challenge was that group members would have to seek, find, and follow instructions. The group found a set of instructions saying that all personal possessions; cellphones, watches, purses, and wallets were to be placed in a collection basket. The group then proceeded to the source of a car horn sounding off. Although they didn’t find the car, they found a rope attached to a trapdoor leading to an underground location. The group entered.
The facility was constructed by joining a group of shipping containers together. The containers were further divided into locked cells on either side of a connecting aisle. Each cell could be unlocked following a code or when a clue was correctly interpreted. The team had ninety minutes to solve all the puzzles and escape from the containers. Once they descended, the ladder they had used self-destructed.
The team was new employee Cheryl, John the owner/manager, Monty the company’s top salesman, Howard the office manager, Maggie from accounts, Leo the purchasing manager, and Alfie, a junior sales representative. Once committed to the idea of escaping from the constructed room, the rules changed. A cover slid over the top of the entrance, and a new digital countdown clock began counting down. The team had seven days, not ninety minutes, to escape. One of the cells had food and water for seven days, but six people. The event organizer had not named Cheryl as a participant.
The group, minus Cheryl, had been picked by an evil entity. Each of six members of the team had committed a sin that offended the leader of Retribution, Inc. One person was a murderer; one was a thief. Others were adulterers; every person of the six had done something wrong. Each would face a puzzle and be given a chance to confess their sin in front of the rest of the group. Failing to admit wrongdoing was a death sentence.
The set-up for the novel takes three chapters. There are seven more chapters of tension, horror, and death that warrant the novel’s stated genre as a horror novel. This book is a fast read and a page-turner. It is psychological as readers watch the group relationships change as sins are revealed. I gave this book five Amazon stars because of the subtlety with which crimes were uncovered and the way character clues supported moral failures of (almost) each character.
This book sells for USD 4.99 on Amazon but is available as a free read on Kindle Unlimited.