Review: The Last Time I Lied (Riley Sager)

Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions are simply my own honest ones and I have not been asked to write this review. Not everyone may agree with my thoughts and that’s okay! I hope you enjoy reading about mine.

Rating: 5 Stars

At the age of thirteen Emma Davis finds herself at Camp Nightingale, bunking in a cabin with three older girls (Vivian, Natalie, and Allison). She becomes closest with Vivian, the spunky, often rude leader of the pack. Two weeks into their summer away from home Emma wakes to find that the three girls have gone missing from their bunks.
She immediately begins to point the blame at Theo Harris-White, the eldest son of Franny Harris-White – the owner of Camp Nightingale and Lake Midnight (the lake that sits on the camp grounds), effectively ruining his future as he’s unable to shake the stigma of the disappearance, despite never actually being charged with anything, even years later.
The missing girls also prompts the camp to close its’ doors early that summer and doesn’t reopen until fifteen years later when Franny decides it’s time to try again.
Despite all that Emma has done to the Harris-White family name, Franny invites her back to the reopening as the camp art instructor, which Emma eventually agrees to under the pretence of instructor but on a secret mission to figure out what actually happened to her three missing friends.

Review (Spoilers)
This chilling book had me on the edge of my seat the entire read. I must admit, I’m a big fan of Riley Sager and his first book, Final Girls still has me reeling. But The Last Time I Lied turned out to be equally as thrilling.

Of the two major plot twists in this novel, there was one you could see coming a mile away while the other one sent a shiver down my spine. The concept of the angry brother out for revenge was an obvious choice and honestly a boring explanation but a ghost back from the dead and a disappearance turned murder threw me for a loop right away. Chet actually being behind the second disappearance was disappointing as it was such a let down because of how obvious it was. The fact that Theo is seen around camp and interacting with Emma only made it seem glaringly obvious that Chet barely showed his face in the book except in passing a few times (even his perky bride-to-be had a larger role than him). That just screamed CHET DID IT!

Despite that, I loved the fact that Emma spends most of the story literally haunted by Vivian’s ghost only to discover her buried truth in the end. That was pure beauty and I won’t say much more on that topic.

As many people know (and are, for some reason very angry about) Riley Sager is a man who assumed the ambiguous but suggestively female pseudonym which many are outraged about because they feel he only did it to sell books (he published under his male name in the past and the books did not do so well, so it was changed when he wrote Sager’s debut, Final Girls). I personally don’t understand the issue with the decision. My only tiny upset about any of this has little to do with the author’s name or sex but with the fact that if you’re a man writing from a female perspective (or woman writing from a male perspective) you need to know how to do it correctly. And for the most part Sager get’s it pretty right. The Last Time I Lied has one glaringly obvious moment when Emma doesn’t act the way most thirteen year old female’s in her position might.

She’s at a diner with Theo in town the first time she’s at camp because Vivian needs to “pick some things up” (but really just looked into a book at the town library to discover some hidden “truths”) and thirteen year old Emma initiates a kiss between her and twenty year old Theo. Now. My issue with this is that while it’s completely plausible that a human female might do this, I simply didn’t find it realistic for Emma. She never came across as sexually advanced, despite her crush on Theo and I don’t know many girls her age who would brazenly kiss a man without prompting. While I’m not saying it’s never happened and while I’m also not saying that girls and women cannot be interested or self-confident enough to do something like this, it simply seemed out of character for Emma (which, I assume is why it’s mentioned that she channels her inner Vivian). This part just rubbed me the wrong way and perhaps just because of the simple fact that she was a child and he was a fully grown man at the time. However, in Theo’s defensive he did pull away for that exact reason.

The last thing I want to touch on is Emma’s paintings. She’s an artist who works on massive canvas and painted the same thing over and over again. She always started by painting the girls in white dresses on the canvas before painting a forest over them. This is one of the most bone-chilling things Emma does, in my opinion, and it was so poetic and haunted I couldn’t help but love it. For fifteen years she’s painted her friends and then covered them up with layers of painted forest. I thought this was an absolutely beautiful touch to the tortured artist (not to mention human being) that Emma becomes after her return from Camp Nightingale. The fact that all these people look at and purchase these paintings, not knowing that there’s Vivian, Natalie, and Allison hidden behind each one is fantastic! And the fact that, upon learning the truth about her friends, she begins to paint Natalie and Allison before covering them up with paintings of water goes to show just how haunted Emma is, even after learning the truth.

And the last thing I’ll touch on is Emma’s “truth” about the night the girls went missing. The fact that she locked the cabin door that night really wasn’t that much of a bomb drop in the storyline, and I think it was simply there to serve the purpose of a loop around plot twist, when she realizes exactly how Vivian had phrased her last sentence to her, which was fine, it served it’s purpose, although I almost wish she had carried a larger burden or there had been more to it. But alas, not everything can be a heavy explosion of realization for the reader.

All in all (and despite the things I’ve mentioned that I didn’t particularly enjoy) I thought this book was mind blowing and did not disappoint! I would absolutely recommend it if you like thrillers and want a page turned. It earned it’s five stars from me and I’m so happy Sager’s success with Final Girls wasn’t simply a one hit wonder!

Note: Lock Every Door (Sager’s third book) hits bookshelves July 2, 2019.

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