MARISHA PESSL – Night Film. Random House, hardcover, 2013; trade paperback, 2014.

   Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our beings and shows us what we are. Will you step back and cover your eyes? Or will you have the strength to walk to the edge of the precipice and look out?

   Night Film dares you to look into that precipice, and both the view and the journey are well worth it.

   I’m not easily impressed by so called Meta-fiction. Too often I find the attempt gimmicky and distracting, the writing, characterization, plot, and basics of story-telling lost in a maze of clever ideas that are too much trouble to bother with for the work that it results in.

   In the case of Night Film none of that is true.

   This one is a stunner, both entertaining and fun, and revealing of deeper matters. I am seriously in awe of and envy of Marisha Pessl’s gifts as a writer.

   Dead is Ashley, the daughter of cult film maker Stanislas Cordova (“Everybody has a Cordova story whether they like it or not”) whose dark and violent films reflect something sinister about the man himself. It’s ruled a suicide, but investigative journalist Scott McGrath thinks there is more to the death of the troubled young woman than meets the eye and, with his assistants, Nora and Hopper, begins to delve into the personal history of the reclusive Cordova family and their multiple truths, a journey complicated by McGrath’s own secrets — even those hidden from himself.

   As plots go, this one predates Citizen Kane, but that is the last mundane thing about this inventive and suspenseful literary thriller that spins out in a dozen directions at once from its premise.

   Dazzling is a word that is overused, but this one is just that.

   Replete with photographs, reproductions of websites, even a Wi-Fi interactive Night Film Decoder App for your PC or other device that can be used to access secrets and films triggered by a symbol of a bird on many of the photographic pages. This could all be hugely annoying and ultimately pointless, if the book wasn’t so good; it needs none of that to work.

   That is all icing on a cake that is a delight unadorned. Suspense novel, thriller, detective puzzle, psychological profile, case study in the outre and the weird, study in film history and theory, Night Film will remind you of nothing so much as Theodore Rozack’s brilliant novel Flicker, but as shockingly new now as that book was then.

   The book has everything, including a diabolical curse, and enough twists and turns to give even the most jaded reader of detective novels and thrillers whiplash. Read this one, enjoy it, delight in it. Books this good just don’t come along that often.