Think for a minute about books by North Carolina’s best writers.
Then tell me the one word that goes with the following words in the three recent book titles: Train, Woods, and Film.
Okay, here are the answers: Clyde Edgerton’s “Night Train,” Charles Frazier’s “Night Woods,” and the just released “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl, who grew up in Asheville and gained national attention in 2006 with her debut novel “Special Topics in Calamity Physics.”
As Edgerton and Fraser could have explained to Pessl, writing the second novel after a wildly successful debut is a formidable challenge.
But, like Edgerton and Fraser, Pessl has proved she has the commitment and talent to give us a lifetime of rich storytelling.
So, what is the story of “Night Film”?
Ashley Cordova, daughter of Stanislas Cordova, the infamous, reclusive director of cult films, falls to her death in the elevator shaft of a deserted building in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Although the death is ruled a suicide, Scott McGrath, a down-and-out investigative journalist, suspects otherwise.
His investigation takes him and the book’s readers to the mental hospital from which Ashley escaped shortly before her death.
McGrath and two interesting young assistants, whom he picks up along the way, visit the places in New York where Ashley spent her last 10 days: the Waldorf Astoria, a walk-up apartment where Ashley took residence, a tattoo parlor, the Cordova family mansion, an exclusive bondage club, and other places to try to find out how and why Ashley died and who might be responsible.
McGrath also contacts her father’s actors, former spouses, staff members, and others who knew Stanislas Cordova. He visits the isolated estate where Stanislas made his films and Ashley grew up. He breaks into the secret webpage of a cult of Cordova movie fans. He does everything to find, as he suspects, some direct connection between the film director and his daughter’s death.
Then, when black magic and pacts with the devil pop up as clues, McGrath has to explore the possible connections.
His investigation forces him to reassess his views of the supernatural and much more, 600 pages worth.
“Night Film” is a long trip, but also a quick read, thanks to Pessl’s fast-paced story telling gifts.
And when she is ready to take her readers on another similar trip, I will be waiting at the station, ready to go.