Spoiler warning: Some surprise plot points revealed.
As I was thinking about the review for this book I spent a while trying to decide on one word to describe it and I finally came up with … frustrating.
Last Time I Lied is the second book by Riley Sager and is almost a redemption story wrapped up as a thriller. Fifteen years ago Emma Davies arrived at Camp Nightengale (or as it was euphemistically known Camp Rich Bitch) as barely a teenager for a six week stay at the all girls retreat. She was an only child of uninterested (and in her mother’s case a high functioning alcoholic) parents.
There she meets Allison, Natalie and the enigmatic Vivian, fellow attendees and her cabin mates. Shortly after her arrival the three girls go missing, never to be found and Emma’s life falls apart. But hers is not the only one to suffer.
Fast forward to the present day and Emma is an artist who is haunted by the mystery and the aftermath. She is visited by Camp Nightingale’s owner, the rich Francesca Harris-White, and is persuaded to go back, this time as a counsellor and art teacher. The camp had been closed since the tragedy but is now making a comeback and Emma sees her return as a way to expel old demons and maybe try to solve the riddle of what happened to her friends all those years ago.
I have to say that I never really settled with this book if that makes any sense. I was eager to read it as I had enjoyed his last book, Lock Every Door, but I felt like it was a struggle the whole way with this one.
Why? It’s difficult to explain but I’ll give it a try.
I didn’t really like any of the characters and there was certainly no one that I formed an attachment to or was rooting for, not even Emma. She was quite difficult to get a grip on. She was constantly referring to the lies that she told at the time of the girls disappearance (before and after the event) which certainly didn’t endear her to me and how that may have influenced subsequent events but it seemed like an age before we got to finally know what they were. At one point I felt like giving her a good shake and saying ‘just spit it out!’. I used the word frustrating earlier and that’s honestly what it was like following the story from Emma’s perspective. It was like running really fast trying to catch up to something but it was always deliberately kept just out of reach. Now I know that can be used to create tension and suspense but it didn’t translate that way … not for me at least.
And I certainly didn’t feel any love for the teenage girls that attended Camp Nightengale. All that bitchiness and hormones I could do without.
My favourite parts or should I say the parts I enjoyed the most were when Emma did some sleuthing (for the want of a better word) as she tracked leads and followed clues in her efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery. I know these could be considered the most ‘conventional’ parts of the plot but what can I say. That was when I was most involved and engaged. Otherwise I drifted on the edge of indifference.
I also thought the use of the false ending or a surprise within a surprise was a bit overdone. The ending is revealed but then it isn’t. But then it is … and then, nope not quite yet. It’s not actually until the very final pages that we are given the real version of events. And I know this is a mystery thriller book so there is a certain sense of hyper reality but, for me, it just didn’t seem to fit. Now I can hear you at this point saying ‘but Lock Every Door had a very wild plot’ and you loved that and you would be right but that worked far better for me. It just did. This didn’t.
It sounds like I am coming down hard on this book and I don’t mean it that way. I’m just trying to explain how I felt reading it. It was not an awful book by any stretch. There are probably many people who will love it and it has garnered many good reviews but sometimes you don’t click with a book and I think that was the case with this one for me.
I would call it a solid effort but not one of my favourites of recent times.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)