Book: “Survive the Night” by Riley Sager
Publishing Info: Dutton Books, June 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer. Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?
What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing–survive the night.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
One of the things I’ve looked forward to every summer for the past few years is that, like clockwork, Riley Sager has written a new thriller novel. I’ve been reading Sager since his debut, “Final Girls”, and I have genuinely enjoyed every book he has come out with. Sometimes with varying degrees of enjoyment, but enjoyed nonetheless. Sager is a reliable thriller author for me; I know what to expect, I know I will probably like his characters, and I know that he will find ways to surprise me. So, of course, I’ve been looking forward to “Survive the Night” since I first heard of it. I wanted to savor it, saving it on my Kindle for awhile, knowing that it would probably be devoured right up as soon as I began but hoping I’d restrain myself. And I didn’t, really, as I read it in two big chunks over the course of two days. But hey. That’s reliable as well.
The book is mostly from Charlie’s point of view, as while it’s in the third person, it is mostly from her perspective. Charlie is a fairly typical protagonist for a book like this; she has a lot of baggage stemming from childhood trauma, which has been compounded by the fact that her roommate and best friend Maddy was brutally murdered by The Campus Killer, and Charlie blames herself. It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen before, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just worn. Adding into this well worn treading into overdone territory is that Charlie’s unreliability as a quasi narrator is partially based in some mental health issues, in that she has hallucinations and dissociative states she calls ‘going to the movies’. So of course, a scene that could be one thing, will end up not being real. There are a lot of things to be said about using mental health as a plot point in this way, and while I don’t necessarily think that it’s damaging or offensive, I do think that it’s something we’ve seen before. I LIKE Charlie, she’s just not really reinventing the wheel. Josh is our other main character, who has a few moments of perspective, but most of what we see is what we get from Charlie, and her paranoia and trauma could make her unreliable when it comes to him. Again, things we’ve seen before. It works out fine, Sager does it well, and I enjoy Josh as a character too. But again. We’ve seen it.
The plot, however, is a true rollercoaster from beginning to end, and Sager sprinkled little clues in here and there that I definitely missed. It could have been a healthy mix of sleight of hand on his part and me being so engaged with wanting to find out what happened next, but missed them I did, and it made some of the surprises all the more fun. I talked above about how using dissociative episodes in fiction to make someone unreliable is a bit old hat and overused, but there were lots of other well done tricks and twists that obfuscated details and solutions that I wasn’t too put off. The cat and mouse elements between Charlie and Josh slowly build and build, and even when one reveal happens a new conflict or danger will start to slowly build almost immediately after, so the release doesn’t last too long. It makes for a very tense and addictive mystery at hand, and it hooked me from start to finish. And while Sager sometimes tends to tread a bit towards outlandish twists nearing the end of the book, I felt that “Survive the Night” never quite overdid itself in that regard. And I’m not going to spoil anything, really, but I will say that the sappy romantic in me who gets invested in fictional relationships had a lot to work with in this story.
So while I thought some of the character choices were slightly underdeveloped or tropey, overall I found “Survive the Night” to be a really fun thriller novel. Riley Sager hasn’t failed me yet, and this is definitely the kind of book you should pick up if you like suspense.
Rating 8: Suspenseful, cinematic, and highly addictive, “Survive the Night” is another entertaining rollercoaster of a book by Riley Sager!
“Survive the Night” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery and Thriller 2021”.