I remember buying this book on a whim a couple of years ago in my mere attempt in trying to read more Adult books since I myself am, apparently, an adult. I then proceeded to put it off for as long as I could because I was not ready to read like an adult, I suppose. But at the time of purchasing this, I was not aware that this was actually written by a man so I was upset at discovering that information, thinking I was bamboozled into buying it. I don’t like reading books by men because I don’t believe they know how to write female characters with the justice and respect they deserve. So that would probably be why I put it off for so long. But I needed a palate cleanser so I finally gave in. All in all, I think this was a good, solid story, but I don’t think it was great. It wasn’t “amazing, award all the stars” kind of caliber. I enjoyed it, but did not love it.
I want to start with the narrative and I thought that it was structured rather interestingly. It began with a second person tense, as a way to get the reader ready for what they’re about to immerse themselves in, and I would’ve hated it if it was more reoccurring than it actually was. So I can let that slide. The rest of the book was structured in a mostly present tense first person narrative from the protagonist, Emma, with flashbacks to her first time at Camp Nightingale fifteen years prior. I don’t absolutely hate the use of a first person narrative for a mystery/thriller because I like the idea of figuring things out at the same pace as the character. I will admit that I did have doubts about how Emma’s voice would be written, especially by a man, and all things considered it wasn’t the worst voice I’ve read; I hate complimenting men but hey, Riley Sager, you didn’t do a terrible job with Emma’s voice. Kudos to you. I felt like the flashbacks were inserted when they were appropriate to the present story at hand and it’s a plot device I enjoy with books like this.
But the thing with Emma’s narrative is, in my opinion, she felt like an unreliable narrator, which is absolutely fine but it got to the point where she felt too unreliable. Not because she was diagnosed with an illness close to schizophrenia, making her hallucinate every now and again, but because she was very quick to jump to conclusions and ignore a lot of things that were right in front of her. By playing Two Truths and a Lie with Vivian years ago, the idea was to have Emma learn how to see things that aren’t quite there and be able to find the truth in a lie. But it was like Emma didn’t really grasp that lesson and constantly saw answers that weren’t really true and had her jump from conclusion to conclusion with little to back it up. I get that with books like this the main character often jumps from one suspect to another, but even with Emma’s erratic accusing of everyone it was hard to find the answer yourself as the reader. And even when things were, in fact, happening to her it was hard to know if it was happening or if Emma was hallucinating. Again, great plot device but it’s just questionable in the logistics of it all, I suppose.
While I definitely think the big reveal at the end was absolutely insane and a great way to end the story, I personally felt like we focused on a lot of plots in this book that were either incredibly useless or had little to no payoff. Majority of this story you see Emma investigating and researching an insane asylum from the early 1900s and you think that it has to have something to do with why the three girls disappeared all those years ago. Emma spends so much time finding its history, following what Vivian had figured out, and eventually finds answers and then it just ends on that note. The end. The information all discovered about Peaceful Valley actually meant very little to the book and it felt like we wasted a lot of time on something to simply be a red herring. And there were a lot of red herring plots in this book that had little to no payoff, making me wonder what the point even was. I know that it was probably meant to keep the reader on their toes and hit them with shock when we finally get to the reveal, but those reveals felt very small when their connections to the overarching mystery didn’t matter. The reveal was still shocking but when trying to connect it with the book in its entirety, the lack of overlap made it feel underwhelming to me. We were essentially reading two mysteries at once with this book, which is fine, but their payoffs didn’t match up with their buildups.
All in all, this was a pretty good read. Am I still upset that I read a book written by a man? Yes, but I’m a tad more upset that it actually wasn’t terrible. I don’t think it was perfect but it was entertaining with some jaw dropping moments here and there. I just wish that the mystery was structured just a smidge better and the payoff actually mattered.
Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.
Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.
Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.
In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.