“The Locked Door” by Freida McFadden – Roots of a Lost Innocence


The Locked Door by Freida McFadden (Book cover)
Freida McFadden has been quietly writing some exciting and original thrillers in her spare time from being a practicing physician, and The Locked Door is one of her latest offering in the genre. 

It tells the story of Nora, a surgeon and daughter of a serial killer now in jail, who sees her life assaulted from the dark as someone begins to recreate her father's work with the exact same signature.

Freida McFadden Sows the Seed of Doubt

As much as our society has been obsessed with serial killers thanks to the innumerable crime shows examining them, little attention has been placed on the families associated with such people, especially the children who must live in the shadows of their parents' terrible crimes. In The Locked Door by Freida McFadden, we get to see one such child threatened by her father's roots many years later.

The story introduces us to Nora Davis in two different narratives in time. In the first one, she is an eleven-year-old girl who sometimes hears strange noises coming from her father's basement. One day she finds the resolve and curiosity to take a look, only to see a woman in a cage, and her father for the monster he really was this whole time.

In the second narrative, Nora has grown into a seemingly-healthy thirty-seven year-old surgeon who moved about as far away from her past as she possibly could. With a new name, and with it, a new lease on life, she has been trying her best to essentially be a normal person, while still inevitably struggling with the nurture she was subjected to.

However, someone seems quite intent on preventing Nora from having the peaceful and relatively secluded life she's aiming for. It seems a copycat murderer is running around, one very much aware of Nora's past. His modus operandi is exactly like her father's, and it seems he's all too keen on taunting her through gruesome and unforgivable acts.

What's even worse, the detective assigned to the case is being led to believe Nora herself is responsible for the recent string of murders, leaving her no choice but to get her hands dirty and dig up the truth herself. However, the question always remains: is the hereditary monster inside her dead, or simply dormant behind the locked door?

Narrative Interplay in The Locked Door

Personally, I think the concept of having multiple narratives is a relatively ambitious one, in the sense it's not something any random author can pull off without so much as a second thought. It requires careful pacing, and perhaps even more importantly in my opinion, a clever interaction between the two, so as to connect them both and elevate them to something greater than the sum of their parts.

In the case of The Locked Door, I think Freida McFadden did an absolutely spectacular job at juggling the two timelines, always keeping a strong sense of mystery alive, largely in regards to Nora's nature. As we learn more and more things about her past and present, our suspicions of her keep shifting back and forth, and I had a lot of fun trying to figure out the truth behind all the lies and illusions.

While most of the chapters are focused on the present day, the excursions we take back twenty-six years in the past are expertly-written and serve two main purposes: to sow a bit of doubt about Nora's nature, and to build her up as a character.

Knowing about her past actually goes a fairly long way towards making her feel genuine and relatable, even when we're not completely certain as to whether or not she can be trusted. We learn quite a bit about her inner world both in the present and the past, and ultimately, I'd say she's one of the more complete and exciting unreliable narrators in recent memory.

On numerous occasions she also develops as a person as time and time again she finds herself forced to confront the darkness inside of her, pondering at the same time about nature versus nurture and the influence of family on a person's life. She proves herself an interesting observer on many occasions, and McFadden occasionally uses her to voice some of her own thought-provoking takes on life.

A Realm of Gruesome Laughs

On one hand, the story in The Locked Door is a fairly gruesome offering with its fair share of darkness and violence to pass around. This is naturally to be expected given the subject matter, revolving around serial killers and copycats. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, but at the same time, it's definitely not all blood and bleakness.

On the other hand, Freida McFadden alleviates the atmosphere with some of her sharp and piercing humour, even if it is, at times, somewhat morbid. She always throws in some humorous observation or well-timed joke to prevent the experience from becoming depressing, and in my opinion, it's one of the principal elements which makes this book an enjoyable read.

Humour is a difficult element to plug into a book with an inherently-dark thesis, but it seems to me like it comes naturally to the author, an obvious reflection of her own inner world and outlook on life. They're the kinds of clever observations which made me chuckle while turning my attention to some truths few of us think to notice.

The dialogue is exceptionally well-written, with every character having his or her own instantly-recognizable voice and attitude. From the words they use to the way in which they construct their sentences, they all feel like individuals living their own lives when out of our sight, rather than simply being tools to advance the plot.

The Locked Door by Freida McFadden (Book cover)
Speaking of the plot itself, it's truly worthy of being called a thriller, constantly rushing forward from one discovery to the next. The investigative trail after the copycat killer was exciting and drew me in from start to finish, not to mention, without spoilers, the grand twist in the end I'm certain to never forget.

The Final Verdict

The Locked Door by Freida McFadden is a first-rate psychological thriller making expert use of an unreliable narrator, setting them loose on a fast-paced investigation while still finding the time to crack a few intelligent jokes and ponder on some of the heavier topics in life. If you're looking for a fast-paced mystery revolving around a serial killer and the protagonist's questionable past, then this would definitely be the book for you.

Freida McFadden (Author)

Freida McFadden

Freida McFadden is an American author and practicing physician who specializes in brain injury. She has penned over a dozen novels from psychological thrillers to medical humour stories, with some of her more famous ones including The Locked Door, The Perfect Son, One By One, The Wife Upstairs and Brain Damage.


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