Riley Sager treats us to a masterclass in foreshadowing in his sophomore psychological thriller.
The Last Time I Lied is the second book written under the Sager pseudonym, and it delivers just as much – if not more – than its predecessor Final Girls in terms of atmosphere, plot twists, and complicated characters. Readers are introduced to Emma Davis, a 28-year-old up and coming New York City artist who is haunted by a tragedy that took place at summer camp over a decade earlier.
At 13, Emma attended Camp Nightingale, a children’s retreat frequented by the daughters of senators and millionaire businessmen. The summer came to an abrupt end when three girls – Emma’s cabin mates – snuck out one night and never returned. Now, years later, no trace of the girls has ever been found, and Emma has struggled to overcome her feelings of guilt and confusion. When the camp’s founder decides to reopen Nightingale, she invites Emma to work for her as an art teacher. Against her better judgement, Emma returns to the place that has haunted her for years, and sets out to uncover the truth about what happened to her friends.
Although the premise is easy to follow, nothing about The Last Time I Lied is straightforward. Each time it seems Emma is close to uncovering a clue, some new twist sends her spinning in another direction. Every character, even the central one, is suspicious, making this novel an exciting, fast-paced read that will keep you guessing. With his absolutely thorough style, Sager leaves no string untied in the book’s climactic, unexpected ending.
Sager’s next book, called Lock Every Door, is set for release with Dutton Books next July.
Although the central question of the novel is what happened to the three girls who disappeared, another one will frustrate readers even more: why is Emma so deeply invested in the lives of three people she had only known for two weeks? Why hasn’t she been able to move on in the fifteen years that have followed? What is it about Camp Nightingale that would cause a successful artist to up and abandon her life in New York City to spend a mosquito-ridden summer in the forest?
Sager explores Emma’s lasting trauma both delicately and directly. As he slowly unveils the secrets his main character has been keeping for years, readers will come to understand why Emma has been holding on to her experiences at the camp so tightly and why she so desperately needs closure. Although she is intelligent, nice and brave, Emma isn’t an innocent bystander in the events that have played out in her life. Her mistakes will make you question whether or not she is capable of committing a terrible crime, and her unreliability as a witness will start to become more and more clear.
Set on a beautiful, albeit mysterious, lake and overflowing with campy atmosphere, The Last Time I Lied is an absorbing read. If you’ve been looking for a solid, original thriller, this is the perfect novel for you.
(Read my review of Riley Sager’s debut novel Final Girls here.)