The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager wasn’t exactly what I expected. This was my first Riley Sager book but I doubt it’ll be my last. In my head, it would be more like Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places – a woman researching a past crime, not sure who to trust and maybe trusting the wrong people, ending with a big climax. I guess it was sort of that, but in a way it was darker. Darker than your brother murdering your whole family as part of a Satanic ritual? While I enjoyed Dark Places, the fear and uncertainty in The Last Time I Lied felt more realistic.
Emma Davis was 13 years old the summer she attended Camp Nightingale. Due to her parents’ lack of planning, Emma arrives several hours later than expected and there’s no room left in a bunk with girls her age. Emma’s assigned to Dogwood cabin with three 16 and 17 year old girls, Vivian, Nathalie, and Allison. The girls take Emma under their wings, with Vivian adopting the role of big sister. Emma basks in the attention and being accepted by those who are older and cooler than her. But two weeks later, Emma and Vivian have a huge fight and later that night the three older girls disappear, never to be seen again.
Fifteen years later, Emma’s painting career is taking off. What no one realizes is that her dark, moody, gorgeous painting of the woods all contain hidden images of three girls dressed in white. Vivian, Nathalie, and Allison’s disappearance haunts Emma and she can’t stop painting them being swallowed by the woods. Emma is surprised to see Franny Harris-White, the owner of Camp Nightingale, at her gallery opening. The last time she saw Franny was when she accused Franny’s son, Theo, of having something to do with the girls’ disappearance. Emma’s shocked when Franny tells her she plans to open Camp Nightingale and wants Emma to teach painting. Franny assures her all is forgiven. Emma accepts the offer after deciding it’s the perfect chance to find out what happened to her bunk mates.
Once she’s back at camp, Emma doesn’t know who to trust. She’s not even sure she can trust herself.
There are lots of twists and turns. I imagine for Emma it was like being in a hedge maze. You don’t know what’s around each bend. You think you’re going the correct way but then you suddenly reach a dead end. The farther you get into the maze, the more anxious you become, not sure if you’re getting closer to the end or driving deeper into the maze.
I thought having Emma be the narrator was a great choice. As readers, we only know what Emma knows, and there’s the question of whether or not Emma’s a reliable narrator.
Sager’s descriptions are lush and vivid. I could clearly picture the camp, the lake, and the woods. During Emma’s interactions with the other characters, I could picture the scene, all the way down to the little details of how characters carried themselves and the expressions they wore.
The book was extremely slow to start. I almost gave up about halfway through, but then I saw reviews saying it picked up around 50-60%. And boy, did it. The long set up made sense as the book came to a close. It helps the reader get into Emma’s frame of mind and shows how she reached her conclusions.
I generally like faster-paced novels, but the payoff made The Last Time I Lied completely worth it.