I have a pet peeve about books that deliberately withhold information from the reader and then tease you with the fact of that withholding. “If she only knew what really happened that night, she’d never forgive me. [End chapter]” “I’ll always hate myself for that thing I did that I don’t want to talk about right now.” It’s a cheap way of building suspense, and for me, it does nothing but illicit eye rolls.
The Last Time I Lied repeatedly and unashamedly commits this literary crime in the name of making you wonder what happened the night three campers disappeared forever, and what role our narrator (their roommate, Emma) played. But the worst sin of all about the way The Last Time I Lied teases you is that those secrets turn out to be such a misdirection that they don’t actually amount to anything. The truth is both boring and, somehow, unsurprising given how desperately hard the book worked to make you look the other way.
There are also enough plot holes to sink a canoe in five seconds flat. The very premise is wildly outlandish: fifteen years after the disappearances, the camp is reopening and not only is Emma improbably invited back as an art teacher (given all the unnamed trouble she caused the last time she was at camp), but she accepts because her clichéd gay BFF tells her she needs closure like Ru Paul shouting “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?!” Naturally, virtually the entire cast of staff and counselors was also at the camp on that fateful night fifteen years earlier, which means that there’s a steady lineup of suspects for when someone inevitably begins toying with Emma’s head. Or… is Emma imagining the whole thing? (cue spooky ghost sounds)
Did I mention that the camp’s lake is (allegedly) haunted? And that the mystery of the lake is crammed into the mystery of the disappearances like a square peg hammered into a round hole?
Riley Sager’s first book, Final Girls, had its problems but it was mostly an entertaining ride. The Last Time I Lied is all problems with none of the fun. Feel free to skip this one if you’re looking for something to read while you lounge by a haunted lake this summer.
PS I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a review.