It’s fourteen year old Emma’s first summer away from home: she’s off to what is colloquially known as Camp Rich Bitch, a summer camp for the East Coast’s elite. Because Emma, thanks to her negligent parents, arrives late, she ends up sharing her cabin with three other girls, all of whom are several years older. A week after the start of the camp, the girls suddenly vanish. Emma is left behind, confused and hurt. But Emma isn’t entirely truthful.
The camp closes not long after the girls’ disappearance. A decade and a half later, Emma is suddenly approached by the camp’s former director, Franny. Franny has plans to reopen the camp and asks Emma, now a moderately successful artist, to come and work for her, to teach the girls how to paint. Emma accepts the offer, but is weary at the same time. Does Franny have an ulterior motive? Will the girls ever be found?
The Last Time I Lied is a pretty solid thriller, if not entirely original. I liked the setting of summer camp, and to Sager’s credit, he seems fairly competent when it comes to writing that wiliest, trickiest of characters: the teenage girl. In his world, they are neither vicious harlots nor waif-like innocents; they fall somewhere in the middle, and there’s a spectrum. They’re not all great, but by and large it was refreshing to see an author who has at least a moderate understanding of teenagers beyond “they all suck”. Weirdly, the girls are the only ones with some personality; with everyone else he aims for enigmatic and ends up with bland.
Emma, as a main character, is mostly annoying and a little flat, though she works well enough to keep the plot going forward. And while she frequently pissed me off, she thankfully doesn’t suffer from the hypercompetence syndrome that so many main characters in crime fiction seem to have, so that’s something. She has low self esteem, she frequently jumps to the wrong conclusion and she kind of sucks at sleuthing. That last part, admittedly, isn’t ideal in a thriller, but it makes for a nice change from the know-it-all detective who is ThE oNlY oNe who can solve the crime.
Some of the aspects of the book work less well than others – a vague ‘haunted forest’ plotline that we really didn’t need, and the characters could do with a bit of depth – but it did keep me guessing. The final resolution is one that I didn’t see coming and stops just shy of being too outrageous. The ending is predictable, but sweet, and a bit of predictability can be nice and soothing sometimes, so I didn’t mind.
I must admit that I wasn’t too optimistic starting this one, and that was unnecessary. I’m not going to run to the library for my next Sager book, but I’ll definitely give him another go at some point.