Book Review: THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager

Wonderfully haunting and atmospheric, The Last Time I Lied, by American author Riley Sager, is a Mystery in Minutes favorite of 2018, in a year of great, crime fiction reading! From its eye-catching, blue cover, to its breath-holdingly suspenseful, climactic action sequence, and its absolute zinger of a final twist, The Last Time I Lied just may be the quintessential summer psychological suspense!

The novel shares that winning, Stephen Kingesque combination of coming-of-age nostalgia, a likable (albeit in this case, unreliable) main character the reader becomes invested in, and a chill down the spine, spooky atmosphere (minus any gore) that, along with the addition of numerous misdirections and twists, and even an Easter egg nod to Mr. King's work, makes The Last Time I Lied simply pure fun to read!

Located within 4000 acres of privately-owned wilderness at the southern base of the Adirondacks sits Camp Nightingale, featuring an imposing, gothic lodge, electricity-free cabins, illuminated only by lantern after nightfall, and the mysterious Lake Midnight, a large, man-made lake where "the farthest-reaching branches (of submerged trees) scrape the bottoms of canoes, sounding like fingernails trying to scratch their way out of a coffin". At the nightly campfire, ghost stories about sinister secrets of the lake, as well as of the surrounding dense and shadowy woods, are told.

The main character of the novel is Emma Davis: a 28 year old New York City artist whose paintings are inspired by her time, when she was 13, at this sleep-away camp "where generations of young women from well-to-do (Manhattan) families spent their summers swimming, sailing, (and) gossiping".  But the summer that Emma attended, something horrifying happened. Emma's three, teenage cabin-mates all disappeared, and were never found. Their disappearance had a profound, lasting effect upon Emma, and upon everyone involved with the camp that summer, causing the camp to lock its gates "for good". Now, 15 years later, the founder of Camp Nightingale wants to re-open a more egalitarian version of the camp, and she wants Emma to spend the summer teaching painting to the new generation of campers. Emma ultimately decides that this may provide her the chance for some emotional closure, as well as the opportunity to finally figure out the puzzle of what actually happened all those years ago.

Riley Sager's latest book is so vivid and cinematic, it is no wonder rumors of film rights being sold are already swirling. The Last Time I Lied has all of the ingredients for an immersive, eerie, thrilling psychological suspense novel that you do not want to miss!

Edit 7/16/18: Please note that Riley Sager announced publicly, soon after this review published, that The Last Time I Lied has been optioned by Amazon Studios to be adapted as a limited series!

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager book cover image.jpg

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy highly atmospheric crime fiction and mysteries.

  • Who are interested in painters, and the New York City art world.

  • Who appreciate coming-of-age nostalgia in their crime fiction, especially as it pertains to a diverse cast of teenage girls. Kudos to Riley Sager (an author using a gender-neutral pseudonym) for the ability to inhabit, in the flashback scenes, the inner world of adolescent girls.

  • Who don't mind, or enjoy, a bit of a gothic, horror influence in their crime fiction. Please note that the novel's modest amount of violence is not gory.

  • Who don't mind, or enjoy, a bit of the paranormal in their crime fiction.

  • Who appreciate one or more unreliable narrators in their mysteries and crime fiction.

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

Publisher's Blurb:

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.

MINM Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars!

Have you read Riley Sager's previous novel, Final Girls (which has been optioned for the screen by Universal Pictures, and also has won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel 2018!)? Does The Last Time I Lied sound like a fun summer - or anytime - suspense novel? Mystery in Minutes would love to hear from you in the comments below!