Published: July 3, 2018
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.
I absolutely loved this book!
Anyone who grew up watching horror movies in the 1980s knows that summer camp can be a dangerous place.
It certainly was for Emma Davis during her first stay at Camp Nightingale. The other three girls in her cabin disappeared one night, never to return. Fifteen years have passed, years in which Emma has revisited this ordeal again and again through her work as a painter. When she’s offered another opportunity to spend a summer at the camp, Emma barely hesitates. She’s ostensibly there to serve as an art instructor, but her real mission is to finally find out what happened to her friends.
Thrillers are, by their very nature, formulaic. The author met the demands of the genre while offering a fresh, anxiety-inducing story in Final Girls. The author is less successful here. Part of the problem is the pacing. It’s so slow that the reader has ample time to notice how contrived the novel’s setup is.
Emma is clearly unwell, so her decision to go back to the site of her trauma makes some sense, but it’s hard to believe that the camp’s owners would want her back, especially since she played a pivotal role in turning one of them into a suspect and nearly ruining his life. As a first-person narrator, Emma withholds a lot of information, which feels fake and frustrating; moreover, the revelations—when they come—are hardly worth the wait. And it’s hard to trust an author who gets so many details wrong. For example, Emma’s first summer at Camp Nightingale would have been around 2003 or so. It beggars belief that a 13-year-old millennial wouldn’t be amply prepared for her first period, but that’s what Sager wants readers to think. There’s a contemporary scene in which girls walk by in a cloud of baby powder, Noxzema, and strawberry-scented shampoo, imagery that is intensely evocative of the 1970s and ’80s—not so much 2018. The novel is shot through with such discordant moments, moments that lift us right out of the narrative and shatter the suspense.
But, with that being said, I loved the book and count Riley Sager as one of my new favorite writers.