Dutton | 2018
Opening Hook: This is definitely not Wet Hot American Summer
Main Character: Turning tragedy and schizophrenia into art
Plot Twisty-ness: Will light a campfire under your ass
I honestly didn’t think it was possible for me to love a Riley Sager novel more than I loved Final Girls, but then I read The Last Time I Lied and well, spit on my neck and kick me in the crotch, because this has usurped Final Girls as my favourite Sager read, if not one of my favourite reads ever. Period.
It’s true! I am crazy about this book! It makes me want to go to summer camp and investigate mysteries, but you know, it might look a little bit weird to be 32 at a sleep-away camp.
“Dear Husband, I am homesick. But today I went in a canoe for the first time. The tweens here are looking at me funny.“
Sager is a world-class writer. I do not say that lightly or without conviction, because if you know me or read my reviews, you know I’m a huge judgmental bitch. It’s okay, you can agree.
So, when I say Sager is the SHIT. I mean it. He breezes through the art of storytelling like it is the most effortless, natural thing in the world to him. An automatic bodily function.
Breathe. Beat heart. Write.
Every sentence is deliberate, every scene robust. The mood and atmosphere exist without the reader ever needing to wonder about it. It just is. Every question set up is answered without giving away the solution. And every answer pulls the reader deeper into the puzzle.
You will try to figure it out. You will develop your theories. And you will be wrong.
Even in the end, when you’re about to say, “well, that was a disappointing answer to the mystery,” Sager comes along and drops one last bombshell with a maniacal cackle, then disappears into the smoke. And you close the book, mouth agape.
Despite the praise I feel compelled to heap on Sager’s writing, I’m equally as enamoured with the content and themes of his stories. He’s writing things that connect with me on a very personal level. And by that I mean, the elements that clearly inspire his novels are the things I grew up watching and reading and loving; they are the things that heavily influenced my love of horror and mystery and thrillers.
And no one else is taking those 80s, 90s and 2000s inspirations and turning them into modern thrillers for people my age (“elder millennials”) who can appreciate the references on a nostalgic level.
The Last Time I Lied, to me, was Parent Trap circa Lindsay Lohan, meets Wet Hot American Summer meets Friday the 13th meets Pretty Little Liars.
It was mixed together with a chemist-like precision, while also creating a mystery, characters and setting that felt original and exciting and compulsive.
I think I get so hyped on thrillers that trick me because there are so many books in this genre. Crime fiction/thrillers are so hot right now, that it overflows with stories and characters and ideas that are “different” but still feel the same, and therefore lacklustre. If you read a lot of it, like me, the surprises stop being surprising and the thrills stop being thrilling.
So, when someone like Riley Sager comes along and does surprise you, and does thrill you, it’s like falling in love with the genre all over again.
No pressure Sager, right?
The gist is this: Emma spent one summer fifteen years ago at a summer camp, Camp Nightingale. During Emma’s stay, her three bunkmates go missing. The disappearance never solved, it haunts Emma right into adulthood. She’s even made a successful art career out of painting her missing camp friends. Now, the wealthy family who owns Camp Nightingale wants to re-open it, to start fresh. Part of that fresh start involves reaching out to Emma and offering her a position teaching art classes at the camp. And it’s not long before history seems to be repeating itself.
This novel relies heavily on a cast of untrustworthy characters, including Emma herself. The unreliable position of literally everyone in the book is so well done that you honestly never get your footing with this novel. From start to finish you feel uneasy, always a little off kilter, sitting with an intangible sense of suspense and dread.
Horror, mystery and an overwhelming creepy atmosphere, interwoven with elements of a “camp fire ghost story” come together perfectly, making the reader feel like they are literally in the woods, in the dark with their mind playing tricks on them, scared of a cracking branch or a moving shadow. The novel builds suspense using the unnatural silence of nature, and the vulnerability of isolation and the tension of unanswered questions; scaring you without relying on violence or gore or jump-tactics.
It is literally so impressive.
Highly recommend this read for fans of thrillers who are bored to death of the same-old-same-old, or readers who only pick up a thriller once in a while.
I loved this.
Have you ever played two truths and a lie?
Emma has. Her first summer away from home, she learned how to play the game. And she learned how to lie.
Then three of her new friends went into the woods and never returned . . .
Now, years later, Emma has been asked to go back to the newly re-opened Camp Nightingale. She thinks she’s laying old ghosts to rest but really she’s returning to the scene of a crime.
Because Emma’s innocence might be the biggest lie of all…