Review: The Last Time I Lied
The Last Time I Lied, Riley Sager
To be published July 3, 2018 Penguin Random House
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.
I had a blast last year reading “The Final Girls.” It had a lot of what, for me, makes for a great summer read (though I did read the ARC in early spring) I loved that the main character was a baker, I quickly empathized with her and I enjoyed that she wasn’t a 100% reliable narrator as she kept holding pieces of the story back from the reader- a tool that works equally well in “The Last Time I Lied.”
As I read more and more about Emma feeling responsible for her three cabin-mates going missing, but also seeming genuinely uncertain about their fate, it was hard to guess why she feels so guilty before we’ve given the reveals. And that its reveals, plural, as Emma is carrying a lot of baggage from the day/night the girls went missing.
But before I could get too distracted trying to suss out what exactly is going on with Emma, we get some mysterious subplots that deliver the best kind of summer camp creep, including exploring mental health for women in the early twentieth century- I did not see that coming, but the reasons for it (beyond a potential timely social commentary) pay off nicely in the end.
I’m also a big fan of thrillers/mysteries that deliver an additional punch after you think everything has been tied up and this book delivers a deliciously wicked and wonderfully plausible final few paragraphs. It was enough for me to wish I could have followed the story longer.
While I loved the book, and enjoyed The Final Girls before it, I must make one final note: I’m not sure how to feel about all the articles about male authors writing under female pseudonyms, or at least gender-neutral names where given the content, audiences are inclined to believe that the author is female. In an industry where women have often disguised themselves as men in order to be taken seriously, I find the role reversal a little strange.
And in an industry where men are often still taken more seriously, or at least treated with more gravitas than women, I find the pseudonymous gender-swapping a little grating. But I have a hard time saying why- it feels a little less like “stay in your lane” and a little more like “you already have a big slice of the pie, stop trying to women’s slices as well.” It’s obviously not enough to make me not want to read the book, but it something that I find myself reflecting on, also curious about how other readers feel.
Thank you to Dutton Books and NetGalley for allowing me to read an early copy of this booking exchange for a fair and honest review.