Five years ago, the highly respected journalist Scott McGrath had tangled with the film director Stanislav Cordova, as a result he had lost his job, his reputation and his marriage. As the book begins, a figure in a red coat, Cordova’s daughter? appears fleetingly to Scott in Central Park and is later found dead at the bottom of a disused lift shaft with her clothes found neatly folded at the top of the shaft. McGrath won’t be able to resist locking horns once again with Cordova’s.
So begins Night Film by Marisha Pesl, a book where we will be navigating in total paranoia
The first mystery in this story is Stanislav Cordova himself, who hasn’t been seen for decades and who produces ‘realistic‘ horror films, so realistic that there are many rumours of true horrors on the film set.
‘That day they were shooting a driving sequence in the woods with two actors in the woods, they had been shooting for a few hours when a stranger, a young teenage boy, came running into the shot screaming, after much confusion it was discovered that the boy was the directors son who had been servicing a motor boat on a lake nearby and he had accidentally severed three of his fingers, the boy was holding the bloody fingers in his hand s reaming in pain asking his father if he could call an ambulance. The director said no, instead he fired one of the actors and made his son play the part. The director had his son shoot sixteen complete takes before the boy went unconscious. An ambulance was then called, but by then too much time had elapsed to reattach the fingers.’
Scott sets off, originally on the trail of Ashley Cordova, with an unlikely team consisting of Ashley’s one time boy friend and petty criminal, Hopper, and a homeless cloakroom girl and would be actress, Nora. From an interesting mystery story, this slowly slips into the mystical as we follow Ashley’s last weeks into a Dennis Wheatley world of devils, curses and black magic. Now if you like this sort of thing that’s fine, just be warned.
‘You need to visit a real practitioner of black magic
I don’t know a real practitioner of black magic, I only know you so you’re getting to the bottom of this even if it means we sit here for two weeks figuring it out.
I leapt to my feet, the folding chair falling backwards with a crack as I raced to the back of the room, the counters were disordered, burnt candles and ashtrays scraps of papers scribbled with recipes for spells, battered notebooks, plastic sachets of powders marked yes and no, jars of black ashes, shelves were crammed to the ceiling with musty texts……you’ll make it worse Cleo said potent black magic around an unstable mind is like enriched uranium near a fuse’
From partial paranoia and black magic we then move into the realm of total paranoia as Scott and his team try to find Stanslav who is surrounded by more layers of people and mystery than an onion. After breaking into the remote high security Cordova house and grounds, wandering around decades old unused film sets and erring in miles of underground tunnels for what seems to the reader like an eternity. Scott is then captured and tortured without having seen his assailants. As Cordova’s assistant puts it :
‘whatever wild nonsense you’ve come to believe, curses and satan the bogeyman, though honestly I’d have expected a grown man, a veteran reporter to be a little more sceptical’
The story ended with a well written continuation of the book’s mystery, but this was too little too late for me.
First Published as “Night Film” by Random House in 2013