An Easy and Engaging Read
By Shani Asokan
Ceylon Today Features
I love a good thriller. However, the problem with reading a good thriller is its tendency to spoil the entire genre for you. When you’ve read a book with a creative plot, well-developed characters and twists that actually take you by surprise, you often find that books that are missing on or more of these things leave you wanting, bored or just plain underwhelmed.
That being said, Riley Sager’s mystery/thrillers generally don’t disappoint. I’ve found some favourites (The Last Time I Lied, Lock Every Door) and some enjoyable reads (Lock Every Door, Final Girls), so when his latest, Survive the Night came out earlier this year, I knew I was going to pick it up.
After her roommate and best friend is murdered, Charlie Jordan just has to get away from it all. Her life at Olyphant University no longer feels the same, nor does her relationship with her boyfriend Robbie. Not willing to stay any longer, Charlie does something she’s warned other girls never to do – she gets into a car with a stranger.
Josh Baxter seems nice enough. They met at the ride share board, and he’s got a good reason to be heading out of town mid-semester. On the road, they swap stories, and soon Charlie starts to realise that Josh’s story doesn’t quite add up. Is it just her overactive imagination or is Josh not telling her the truth? There’s also the one topic they’ve been avoiding completely, the serial killer haunting Olyphant. Dubbed the Campus Killer, he’s tied up and stabbed three students already, has just struck again.
Suddenly, Charlie is almost certain Josh is the Campus Killer. Now, as she secretly plans her escape, she has a sinking suspicion that Josh knows exactly what she’s thinking. Will Charlie survive the night? Or will she become the next victim of the Campus Killer?
For fans of Sager out there, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Survive the Night just wasn’t as good of a book as I wanted it to be. As a lover of all things true crime, the premise of this book drew me in. A young girl trapped in a car with potential serial killer? Sign me up. However, right off the bat, there were a couple of things that just didn’t make sense. The first of these is integral to the plot. The reader is asked to believe that Charlie, a young woman who is far from naïve, and whose best friend has just been killed,is willing to get into a car with a complete stranger, at night, for a drive across two states, likely to take hours.
The other thing, is that Sager spends the first half of this book establishing something that the reader already knows enough (from the synopsis) to assume – that Josh may not be who he says he is. Sager weaves in Charlie’s character traits, her lack of self-preservation, and her love for classical movies to keep things interesting, but ultimately, a lot of space is dedicated to something that is pretty obvious from the get go.
One thing I did enjoy however, was the subtle uncertainty that runs through this first half; from moment to moment neither Charlie nor the reader knows for sure if Josh is someone to be trusted, and this acts as a hook of sorts, to keep the reader baited.
The second half of the story is where things got real interesting. As with his other books, there were some good twists and turns, a lot of which I didn’t expect or see coming. Still, I found the main twist to be a little over-elaborate. Plus, Sager really captured the essence of male-author-writing-female-character with that ending. No spoilers here, but I was definitely shocked (and not in a good way).
Overall Survive the Night is definitely a page-turner. If nothing else, it is engaging and incredibly readable. Even with all my qualms about the plot, I found that I couldn’t look away, not until I’d read the last sentence. In terms of whether I found a new favourite thriller, it’s a hard no.
This book has all the ingredients readers look for in a Sager style psychological thriller: a strong-willed, independent woman, a premise worthy of a horror movie, great writing and pacing, and all the makings of a good plot. Somehow, mixed together, they still didn’t deliver that nail-biting, heart-racing thrill. Then again, maybe I’ve just read one too many thrillers and it takes a lot for something to really surprise me.
My final verdict, if you’re looking for a quick, engaging read, you might enjoy this. If you’ve been a fan of Sager’s work for a while, this may not be one of your favourites. And if you’ve never read a book by Riley Sager before, don’t start here. If you’re looking for a thriller worth its hyper, I’d recommend The Last Time I Lied, or Home Before Dark.