Audiobook Review: Gina Wohlsdorf’s Security

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve been doing a lot of driving recently, which means it’s audiobook time. A horror audiobook, even! And, for an audiobook that I mostly picked out due to the fact its length roughly matched my road-time, it was actually, y’know, good. Which is surprising!

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Gina Wohlsdorf’s Security is her debut novel, and a solid one. It centers around Tess, an alternately tough-as-nails and ridiculously vulnerable woman who’s responsible for making sure everything is perfect for the opening of Manderley, the most secure luxury hotel ever built. But then things get all dramatic when Brian, her long-lost stunt-biker love-interest with a backstory worthy of The Young and the Restless (seriously, there’s a twin brother) shows up.

The rest of the characters don’t have anywhere near Brian and Tessa’s strange backstory. They’re just shy of being obnoxious stereotypes … except for the ridiculous French chef who is a blatant stereotype. Seriously, he farts a lot and says “Mon Dieu!” like every other sentence.

I guess it’s alright if those characters are a little cliché, however, since they’re mostly there to be horribly butchered by a dude in a Michael Meyers mask for no apparent reason.

Security is a book with a lot of stuff going on, and for the most part Wohlsdorf manages to pull it off. It’s a bit gimmicky, as the whole book is written from the perspective of Manderley’s bajillion security cameras. You could theoretically look as the omnipresent cameras as a commentary on the level of surveillance in modern society … but really, this book’s more interested in being a thriller roller coaster than a nuanced satire.

I kind of wish I’d read the physical book of this, for a couple of reasons. See, because of the security camera gimmick, the print edition of Security has certain passages that are written side by side, in columns, showing how they’re going on simultaneously. Since you can’t really read two passages at the same time and keep any sort of coherency, the audiobook version of Security flits between points of view from one sentence to the next, which on the one hand gets across the ‘multiple security feeds’ thing, but on the other hand it feels a bit A.D.D.-ish at times.

Additionally, there are several passages in Security that get a bit … meandering. To the point where I couldn’t help but think “just get on with it already!” Seriously, Brian and Tessa spend most of disc 5 just laying around in bed in a post-coital daze. It’s a lot easier to skim boring sections of a print novel than it is to fast-forward through chunks of an audiobook, only to have to rewind to pick up on an important plot point you might’ve missed.

Still, Wohlsdorf obviously has a lot of fun playing around with structure and expectations. There’s a lot of weird-ass stuff going on in the book, especially once you realize that the narrator is an actual character in the book, as opposed to just an omniscient third-person observer. I don’t want to go into too much detail because of spoilers, but it’s actually fairly clever. Even the fact that the book is written in present tense ties into the larger structure of the novel.

Gimmicks aside, Security is pretty much a slasher movie or giallo flick in book form. The Killer, despite being nameless and mute, has a lot of character to him. There are a lot of silly little moments– for example, he waits ’til the french chef is done cooking before he murders him, so he can in turn munch on the fancy food. The kills are gratifyingly gory, too, with one highlight featuring a guy having most of his bones broken before he gets tossed into an industrial clothes dryer. And, of course, nearly everything in the Manderley Hotel is decorated in pristine white so great red spouts of arterial blood can be splashed all over it.

The various narrative devices that make Security a good book also would make it very, very hard to pull off as an actual horror film. Or, well, ‘a dude in a mask roams around a posh hotel and skewers people’ would be easy enough, but the various reveals about the security cameras and the narrator would be harder (but not impossible, now that I think of it) to pull off. A movie could also cut out a lot of Brian and Tess’ backstory, which would be a definite plus.

Wohlsdorf is undoubtedly a skilled writer. There were several passages in Security that were tense enough I could feel it in my stomach– though the fast food I’d just eaten probably didn’t help much, either.

Really though, my biggest complaint about Security is the fact that we really get no explanation whatsoever for why a hulking psycho killer has decided to start carving people up. I mean, most slasher movies at least make the faintest nods to the villain’s motivation. Mental asylum escapee, vengeful zombie in a hockey mask, guy who’s disturbingly obsessive about Santa Claus, whatever. Whereas in Security, The Killer has a background far more in-depth than the typical thrill-killing maniac, but we never learn what it is. I guess Wohlsdorf could pick up these threads in a sequel, but it makes for a slightly frustrating note in what’s an otherwise well crafted slasher novel. But, if you’re in the mood for something different, Security is worth a read.

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