Many people have asked me why I set my thriller The Escape Room
in an elevator. It may sound crazy but I've long been fascinated by elevators. They're unnatural environments for humans. We are completely outside our comfort zone when we are in elevators. Think about it: strangers, squeezed together, often forced to brush against each other, confined to a small metal box rising hundreds of feet in the air. Hanging by steel cables. Being in an elevator goes against our primal instincts; we are exposed and we have no way to escape.
An elevator offered an intense, pressure-cooker location for the corporate noir thriller plot of The Escape Room
. My idea was to put four colleagues in a stalled elevator. In the book, the pressure from being in a stuck elevator melts away the veneer of civility. As it dissipates, and they learn secrets about each other, they go from colleagues to mortal enemies. As the book blurb says: "The game's over when things turn deadly."
When I researched the novel, I did fairly extensive research on elevators. I looked at body language in elevators and researched the stories of people who were trapped in elevators. I read elevator repair manuals, studied the designs and dimensions of elevators, their interior decor and the various safety mechanisms. Of course, I also learned that elevators are statistically very safe so let me reassure readers that this book is not at all like one of those 1970s disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno. It's about the psychology and interaction between the characters in an enclosed, unescapable place - an elevator.
In 1962, a social psychologist Solomon Asch carried out experiments on conformity. He conducted these experiments on behaviour in elevators. The results were so funny that they ran on the show Candid Camera. He instructed people who were in on the experiment to turn around and face the rear of the elevator with their backs towards the doors. He then filmed the reaction of a random stranger who joined them in the elevator. Did the stranger copy the others and turn his back to the elevator doors even though he knew that was ridiculous? Or did he face the doors despite the fact that he was the only one doing it? There are some hilarious videos online showing the reactions. There is plenty of other psychological research that has been conducted on elevators. The way that people tend to stay in the corners, how they shift around as more people come in. It is an environment that strips us to our most basic essence.
I also researched the story of a man who was stuck in an elevator in New York for 41 hours. I read his account of what happened and watched CCTV footage that was taken of his ordeal which showed the effects on his psyche of being locked up in such a small space for so long.
All this research helped me understand the psychological meltdown that would happen when people were trapped in an elevator for an extended period of time.
I threw into the mix four very flawed and complex characters. Wall Street high-flyers addicted to money and success. They were all colleagues who ostensibly got along, but secretly they hated each other and would happily stick a proverbial knife into each others' backs. With all that, I had some of my key ingredients for The Escape Room
. Let's just say that locking them into an elevator did not bring out the best in them...
Megan Goldin is the author of The Escape Room and The Girl In Kellers Way. She worked as a journalist in the Middle East and Asia for the ABC, Reuters and Yahoo!