47 pages 1 hour read

Taylor Adams

No Exit

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


No Exit is a 2017 thriller novel by American author Taylor Adams. No Exit is Adams’s third book, following his 2014 debut, Eyeshot, and 2015’s Our Last Night. Following No Exit, Adams released thrillers Hairpin Bridge (2021) and The Last Word (2023). No Exit was chosen as a Book of the Month pick and was named an Amazon Editor’s Guide pick for December 2018. In 2022, the novel was adapted into a film by Hulu, which reimagined protagonist Darby Thorne as a young woman in treatment for drug misuse rather than a college student.

This guide refers to the 2019 Harper Collins electronic edition. Slight variations in pagination may occur.

Content Warning: This guide refers to numerous topics that may be sensitive for readers, including:

  • Violence
  • Kidnapping
  • Gun violence (including gun violence perpetrated by a police officer)
  • Violence against children and animals
  • Torture
  • Maiming and amputation
  • Medical neglect
  • Death by violence
  • Sexual violence (including sex trafficking of children, and sex trafficking of adults)
  • Sexism (including slurs and references to intimate-partner violence)
  • Racism (including slurs that include the n-word, which is not replicated in this guide)
  • Ableism
  • Death of a parent from a terminal illness
  • Misuse of alcohol

Plot Summary

No Exit opens on college sophomore Darby Thorne as she hurries home from her dorm in Colorado to her hometown in Provo, Utah, in response to the news that her mother, Maya, has pancreatic cancer and may have little time remaining to live. The only information Darby has about her mother’s condition is a vague text from her sister, informing her that their mother is fine “for now.” Snow falls heavily as Darby laments both her sister’s lack of clarity and her own harsh words to her mother the last time they spoke. Their relationship is difficult, due to Darby’s extensive partying in her high school years, a habit in which she no longer engages. The urgency to return home causes Darby to drive as far as she can, despite worsening weather conditions, and she drives until she fears she will be stranded in the snow and freeze to death. She stops at a rest station atop a Colorado mountain.

Inside the rest station, there are four other visitors: a middle-aged man named Ed; a middle-aged woman named Sandi, who turns out to be Ed’s cousin; a friendly and gregarious man in his 20s named Ashley; and an alarming man named Lars, whom Darby sometimes thinks of as “Rodent Face.” The group seems resigned to their long night stuck in the rest station, which has few amenities and no cell or internet service. Darby goes outside to some statues that Ashley claimed provided some cell service, yet Darby still cannot get any service. As she returns to the rest station, she glances inside a van parked in the parking lot, and thinks she sees a child’s hand pressed to the glass.

Darby returns inside, anxious and uncertain about what she saw. She regards the other four visitors as suspects and attempts to pair them to the three other cars in the parking lot. Despite having suspicion of everyone, she is quickly convinced that Lars is the kidnapper. She returns outside under the guise of searching for signal once more and uses a shoelace to break into the van, a trick she once used to steal her mother’s car.

Inside, she finds Jay, a nine-year-old girl who has been abducted and trapped in a dog kennel in the back of the van. Darby promises to help Jay, but Lars comes outside to run the heat in the van temporarily, forcing Darby to hide in the back of the van with Jay, during which time she finds a gun cartridge. When he returns inside, Darby retrieves a Swiss Army knife from her car. She drafts a text to 911, telling them the details of the kidnapping and their location. She assesses potential allies inside and decides to confide in Ashley. They hatch a plan for Darby to lure Lars outside and for Ashley to sneak up on him and hit him over the head. Darby heads outside, confused when Lars and Ashley don’t follow her. Jay reveals that there are two kidnappers just moments before Darby sees Lars and Ashley, who are actually brothers, standing together.

Ashley tells Darby that he will kill Ed and Sandi if she says anything, and once they are alone, Ashley smashes Darby’s face into a table. Darby tries again to get help by finding cell service, but before she can do so, Ashley comes up behind her and forces a ziplock bag over her head, suffocating her. Though he nearly succeeds, Darby manages to get free, stealing his keys in the process. She escapes back outside through the window only to halt when she realizes Jay has escaped the van.

Realizing that Jay, who doesn’t have proper winter clothing, will freeze to death if left out in the snow, Darby reluctantly agrees to help Ashley and Lars find the girl. They walk for some time until they all become convinced Jay is already dead. Darby realizes this means that Ashley and Lars have no reason to keep her alive, so she flicks off her flashlight and disappears into the darkness just as Lars shoots at her. She manages to get them turned around in the dark and heads back to the rest stop, where Jay is inside with Sandi and Ed. The four blockade the rest stop door against Ashley and Lars, and Ed, a veterinarian, reveals that information on Jay’s medical bracelet means the girl needs immediate medical attention or is at risk of death. Darby is plotting how to defeat Ashley and Lars when Jay slips Darby a note urging her not to trust Ed and Sandi. Jay recognizes Sandi, her school-bus driver, just as the woman pepper-sprays Darby in the face.

Sandi lets Ashley and Lars back inside, bragging that she has trapped Darby and Jay in the restroom. Ashley shoots Ed in the jaw with his nail gun, injuring but not killing him. Ashley realizes there is an escape route through the bathroom window and charges back outside, but not before Darby steals Sandi’s truck, which has snow chains on the tires. Ashley has already fired nails into the truck’s tires, so Jay and Darby don’t get far before the truck crashes. Darby’s text to the police finally sends, and she receives a response that help will arrive within 30 minutes.

Ashley leads Darby and Jay back to the rest stop. On the way, Darby receives another text, alerting her that her mother has died. Inside, Ed is grievously injured. Ashley smashes Darby’s fingers in a door hinge when she refuses to tell him where the keys are. He then kills Sandi and threatens to kill Ed if she doesn’t give him the information. Darby realizes that she led the police to the wrong location, and, feeling helpless, tells Ashley where the keys are. Ashley kills Ed, then goes outside to fetch the keys, leaving Darby and Jay guarded by Lars, who soaks the building in gasoline.

Darby tears her hand out of the door hinge, despite the intense pain. She tells Jay to turn off the lights and lock the door, and is eventually able to kill Lars in the dark with the Swiss Army knife. Ashley returns to the rest stop and discovers his brother is dead. He breaks the door and fires nails at Darby and Jay, but the building erupts in flames. Darby and Jay escape the building just in time, but Darby injures her ankle.

Darby and Jay see headlights in the distance, and Darby urges Jay to run ahead while she fights against Ashley. After Darby and Ashley battle outside the rest stop, Darby learns the name of the man to whom Ashley intended to sell Jay. The police finally arrive at the right location but misread the situation, and the officer shoots Darby. Ashley then kills the officer and pursues Jay. Jay eventually kills Ashley.

Jay returns to Darby, who believes herself to be dying. She writes the name and address of the man who “purchased” Jay on her arm so that the police will know. Darby falls unconscious as the authorities arrive. In the epilogue, Jay and her parents visit Maya’s grave with Darby, who feels confident in her mother’s love after her ordeal.