An Intersection of Common Fears
By Dawn Ius
The working title for Linwood Barclay’s new novel was Going Down, but despite a brief stint as a comedy writer, it didn’t quite fit the New York Times bestseller’s current brand as an author of page-turning suspense.
ELEVATOR PITCH—an insider nod to how a writer is often asked to describe an idea to an agent or editor—is a much more apt title, and the book not only lives up to Barclay’s brand, it exceeds it. This novel is terrifying.
“Elevators are really an intersection of several common fears—claustrophobia, heights, fear of falling,” he says, acknowledging that ELEVATOR PITCH taps into each of these, and then some. “This is a real horror story.”
Set in Manhattan, of course, the action centers on a terrorist plot in which all of the elevators in the city of skyscrapers are brought to a grinding halt—some with people in them, and all with nail-biting consequence. Barclay spares no expense imagining every possible scenario, and delivers a tale with enough fear factor, many readers will cast a wary glance at an elevator before likely deciding to use the stairs.
The idea for the book came from a fairly innocuous article Barclay read about there being not enough elevator inspectors for the city of Toronto, where he lives.
“I have a relative who connected me to a guy who runs the elevator system for a building, and I spent time with him to do research,” Barclay says. Some of that involved fairly routine tasks, like pausing an elevator at one floor so that Barclay could see up an elevator shaft, but he was most inspired by the remote controller the operator held—a small device with the ability to control every elevator in the building, that can be bought for a couple hundred bucks on eBay. “I knew then that I had a story.”
Further research taught Barclay about elevator surfers—kids who find ways to get on top of the elevator car and “surf” as it goes down. “Which is not a really good thing to do,” Barclay says, a little tongue-in-cheek. “Definitely not something I’d recommend.”
Though it makes for good fiction, and this kind of scene—along with, yes, a little hanky panky in an elevator—gives readers some breathing room as they go from one terrifying scenario to the next, much of it based on real-life possibilities.
But it is a thriller, and of course, Barclay takes some liberties that amp the stakes for each of the characters, especially the two detectives and journalist who are up against a ticking clock to figure out who has orchestrated these random acts of terror and brought Manhattan to its proverbial knees.
“I was in Hong Kong 10 years ago, and I considered setting ELEVATOR PITCH there,” Barclay says. “But I don’t know Hong Kong very well. I’ve been to New York so many times, and I know the layout.”
It’s perhaps ironic that during Barclay’s last trip to the Big Apple, part of Manhattan experienced a blackout, which not only shut down elevators in one quadrant of the city, but also created mass chaos as Broadway shows were cancelled, subway trains rendered useless, and streetlights faded to black. But New York’s actual blackout last July caused only a fraction of the fictional hysteria Barclay creates in ELEVATOR PITCH.
The book has earned plenty of well-deserved advance praise and an enthusiastic nod from the Horror Master himself, Stephen King. In fact, King provided a blurb for one of Barclay’s early books, Trust Your Eyes, and recently tweeted about ELEVATOR PITCH, encouraging everyone to read it.
“Isn’t he great?” Barclay says. “I discovered a while ago that he’s been reading my books and I’ve met him a couple of times. My wife and I got tickets to one of his events in Toronto and I asked him to autograph a book to me and my wife, Neetha. When I started to spell her name, he said, ‘I know how to spell it—you dedicate every book to her.’ I was surprised that he knew that detail.”
King has even given shout-outs to Barclay in his own stories—in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, one of the characters is reading a Barclay novel, and in Doctor Sleep, King references a product called World 360, which isn’t real—it’s something Barclay invented for Trust Your Eyes.
It’s a mutual admiration society, though. Barclay’s next book has an intriguing elevator pitch with a clever nod to a King classic—“think Jurassic Park, but instead of dinosaurs, picture self-driving cars. It’s like being on an island with 1,000 Christines.”