I picked up this book because I enjoyed another Riley Sager thriller novel, Home Before Dark. I found a similar plot and characters, but The Last Time I Lied leaves more unanswered questions and has more holes in the story. While this novel is enjoyable to read, and reads quickly, this is not my favorite thriller novel.
The book opens with a memory of the morning three girls are discovered missing at Camp Nightingale. Emma’s bunk mates, Vivian, Natalie, and Allison, are nowhere to be found when Emma wakes up to an empty camp cabin. The mystery of the missing girls turns Emma against the wealthy camp owners, the Harris-White family. Accusations are made, feelings are hurt, families struggle to cope, and the camp is closed because of Vivian, Natalie, and Allison’s disappearance. The Harris-White family is forced to pay huge settlements to the three families due to their negligence in supervising children. But the girls are never found.
Emma is haunted by her three missing friends since that day fifteen years ago, as evident in her spectacularly haunting paintings, in which each contains Vivian, Natalie, and Allison hidden deep in the background. The series of paintings serves as a therapy for Emma, but she cannot seem to paint anything else. At her gallery opening, Francesca Harris-White shows up to purchase one of the largest paintings. She tells Emma that she is going to reopen Camp Nightingale and would like her to come for the summer to teach campers how to paint. Stunned Emma cannot believe that Camp Nightingale can recover from such a blemished reputation, but agrees to come back to the camp for the summer. Maybe, just maybe, Emma can get figure out what happened to her bunkmates fifteen years ago and have some closure.
Once Emma arrives at Camp Nightingale, she is greeted by several familiar faces and finds herself assigned as the counselor to the very cabin that she stayed in as a camper, cabin Dogwood. Her new bunkmates, Miranda, Sasha, and Krystal, strongly resemble her previous bunkmates. However, this time there is a security camera, the only one in camp, pointed right at Dogwood’s door. As the summer moves along, Emma undercovers that Vivian, one of the missing girls, was investigating the camp owners and their connection to the man-made lake that sits in camp. Francesca’s family built a dam and suddenly flooded the valley one night without notice to the residents in the valley. Sitting in the valley was Peaceful Valley Asylum, a place that a doctor brought women from squalid conditions in New York City’s mental facilities. Emma realizes that Vivian was close to exposing the family’s past and camp origins just before she disappeared. In her efforts to find out what happened to Vivian and her friends, Emma digs deeper and tries to follow Vivian’s clues. Is the Harris-White family hiding something? Are they holding a resentment toward Emma for her accusations fifteen years ago?
But it happens again. Emma wakes up one morning to an empty cabin. Where did her bunkmates go? Are the campfire stories true? Is there a serial kidnapper in the woods? Emma’s search leads her to many conclusions, some of which are completely wrong.
The Last Time I Lied starts right off with a mystery that hooks the reader and keeps them guessing throughout the story. The plot and pace are interesting and move along quickly. However, I found the characters flat and somewhat underdeveloped. The protagonist does not develop throughout the story; she remains obsessive over her bunkmates and Camp Nightingale even at the end of the story. Additionally, the characters became a bit annoying and high schoolish as the story progresses. I found myself tempted to skip over paragraphs that dealt with supporting characters.
There are several unanswered questions as well. Why isn’t Lottie in the photos but everyone else is? How did Vivian escape camp without notice? Whose shadow was outside of the shower wall when Emma was in there? What happened to Franny husband?
Despite these issues, Sager’s book is still worth reading. I would recommend it as a light read; something that you will not invest a lot of analysis in.