Book: “The Last Time I Liked” by Riley Sager
Publishing Info: Dutton Books, July 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.
Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.
Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.
Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.
Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!
If you remember, last year I was very excited about a book called “Final Girls” by Riley Sager. Sager kind of came out of nowhere with that book, an homage to the Final Girl trope from horror movies. So you can be sure that when I saw that he had a new one called “The Last Time I Lied” I was going to need to get my hands on it ASAP. The moment I sat down and started it, I was immediately sucked in and had a hard time putting it down, just like “Final Girls” the summer before. So thank you, Riley Sager, for taking me in and refusing to let me go until I found out what happened. AND for making it take place at a summer camp with a scandalous past. Because now I get to use “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Sleepaway Camp” references while I gush about this awesome mystery thriller, as is tradition when dealing with a story about summer camp.
If “Final Girls” was a homage to slasher films, “The Last Time I Lied” is one to Nancy Drew. There are teenage and adult female detectives alike trying to figure out mysteries from missing people, to a mysterious village that may have disappeared, to rumors of a once operational mental asylum. Granted, these mysteries are a bit more amped up in stakes than Nancy Drew ever was, but the parallels are certainly there. This story is told in two separate narratives (this is a really popular narrative form I’m realizing). There is the present day, where our protagonist Emma is a damaged adult who is haunted by her one summer at Camp Nightingale, and thirteen year old Emma while she is attending the camp during that fateful summer where her bunkmates Vivian, Natalie, and Allison disappeared. We see what a mess present day Emma is, and as we explore both timelines we not only get clues about what may have happened to the girls, but what has happened to Emma as well in the years after. Sager did a great job of using this plot structure to its full effect, as there were clues to all the various mysteries across both timelines, some obvious and some not so obvious. As you all know I liked trying to guess what is happening as I read along (more like I can’t help it), and I’m pleased to say that in “The Last Time I Lied” I was pretty much caught unawares, and the moments that I did guess part of a solution, I was missing vital pieces. Sager is even good at pulling off a last moment epilogue twist without supremely pissing me off, and THAT, as you know, is a feat that few an accomplish. I think that Sager did it so well because he knows that you have to set up a foundation for it, and definitely put it all in there even if I didn’t notice it. So when I got to the end I was definitely enthralled.
But on top of an excellent mystery, Sager also writes great characters who feel very real. Emma is such an interesting protagonist because she could fit the usual tropes of ‘damaged woman has to confront her dark past’ that we so often see in these stories, but she rises above them in almost every way. She’s a mess, but she’s not unlikable; on the contrary, she’s very easy to root for. She’s also realistic in how she behaves both as an adult and as a teenager. I found out about halfway through this book that Sager is a man (Riley Sager is a pen name, and the identity behind it was kept close to the vest for “Final Girls”), and I was surprised if only because DAMN does he know how to write teenage girls. I related hard core to thirteen year old Emma, with her shyness, insecurities, and awkward crush on Theo, the oldest son of the camp director, Franny. In fact, every teenage girl that Sager wrote reminded me of girls I knew in my teenage years. It’s a serious talent to know how to genuinely channel the minds and ways of teenagers, and Sager has proven that he has that talent.
In fact, all of the characters are given moments to shine and feel like fleshed out individuals. From Emma’s friend Marc (acting as a faraway Nancy Drew in his own right) to high strung camp counselor Mindy, all of his characters are given moments of humanity and expression, and it makes it so you don’t want ANY of them to be the culprits of the eventual stalking that Emma becomes victim of, and perhaps something even more sinister as well.
“The Last Time I Lied” was an awesome mystery thriller, and Riley Sager is one of the best in the business. If you haven’t already checked out his work, this book could be the place to start. Just be sure that any fond memories of camp you may have are kept safe and far far away. And if you have bad memories of camp, well, perhaps this can give you the perspective of ‘it could have been worse’.
Rating 9: A thrilling and exciting mystery from a stellar voice in horror thrillers, “The Last Time I Lied” kept me guessing, kept me going, and lived up to my high expectations and then some.
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