by Riley Sager
Published June 2017
Goodreads: See here
Psychological Thriller / Suspense
Synopsis at a Glance:
Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.
Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.
Every so often there comes a book which is important for a reviewer as it reminds them to temper their expectations when they go into a highly anticipated read. This was one of those books for me. When will I remember to do that before I read the book?!
From the second I first heard about this book I was possibly a bit more excited about it than I should have been. The rave reviews and critical acclaim all helped bolster my anticipation, but the thing I was most drawn to was that title! As a fan of the horror genre, and of portrayals of strong female characters in horror in particular, I was not unfamiliar with the idea of a “Final Girl” – or the female character who manages to survive against all odds in a horror film while every other side and main character meets a dicey end.
Titling the book as such draws direct correlations with that part of horror that I love the most. You call a book Final Girls and immediately I think of the Nancys, Sidneys, Ripleys and other characters like them. Strong women with agency that face incredible odds and inevitably have to fight for their survival. Because they’re typically outmatched physically by their antagonist, they have to rely on strength of character, and their wits to keep them alive.
I was hoping for more of that here with the introduction of new characters I could empathize with with root for as the trope was further explored.
Unfortunately, while the trope is invoked, it’s difficult to buy any of the characters here as true Final Girls. It doesn’t help that for the most part, the trauma they endured that made them Final Girls happens off screen before the start of the book, meaning the reader only gets a second-hand perspective on the moment that was categorically the most life-changing bit of character development any of them would ever receive.
This brings me directly to Quincy, and some of the issues I had with her and aspect of predictability that I struggled with. Sager does an awesome job at misdirection, I will give the author that. While I ultimately did guess correctly what was going to happen in the end of the book, there were many moments particularly after the first half of the book that I began to second guess myself.
The problem I had with this is that in doing so, Quincy is made pretty unlikable as a character. There are entire chapters dedicated to pointing out glaring flaws in her character, and while I think Sager was trying to explore PTSD after trauma affecting someone’s psyche, I think it could have been handled a bit more carefully and without making the lead so difficult to trust.
Quincy and Sam are easily the most vividly drawn characters in the novel. Sager does eventually reveal their histories and secrets as the story unfolds – some of which I think would make re-reading this book quite fun. That being said, I do wish the same care had been paid to some the ancillary characters who fell a bit flat. The chapters that explore Quincy’s memories prove that Sager is definitely good at ratcheting up the tension, but the characters that fill those pages aside from Quincy ranged from bland to totally forgettable.
I would have preferred to spend a bit more time in that past timeline, getting to see these characters establish themselves as true Final Girls rather than just be told that they are in the present. Not to mention there’s a sideplot with Sam and Quincy that just took up too much time and I think would have been better served revisiting those earlier events that were so important to their characterizations.
Ultimately, this was still a really enjoyable read. Just be warned, all you horror fans out there who might be drawn to this book because of its name: this is psychological thriller, not horror, so temper your expectations before you begin and you’ll be golden!
🌟🌟🌟✩✩ = 3/5 stars
What did you think of this book? Can you recommend any good thrillers that play off of horror movie tropes well?