Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Reading Time: 3hrs 52mins
Date Finished: April 2, 2021
Content Warnings: PTSD, childhood trauma, psychological hallucinations, and mental illness
What Worked For Me: Atmosphere, focus on art, dual timelines, tiny plot twists
What Didn’t Work For Me: N/A
This book made me discover my love for the trope of “person goes back to where all the bad things happened” and I’m glad I discovered this. It’s a pretty common trope among mysteries, but it never fails to pique my interest.
The book follows Emma, an artist traumatized by the disappearance of her three cabin-mates one summer when she was a young teen. The disappearance was never solved, the camp closed, and the night has influenced the art she creates. When she’s invited back to camp’s re-opening as an art instructor, Emma jumps at the chance to find answers about what really happened on the night three girls disappeared.
I’d read two other Sager books at this point, but this is the one I heard the most praise for. Alex (@readswithrosie) on Bookstagram had been raving about how this was her favorite Sager book and I knew enough about her tastes to trust her opinion. The way the premise was written and how much other mystery loves raved about it made me confident that I would love the book, and I was not let down.
My absolute favorite thing about this book was how atmospheric it is. The camp is very much alive and a part of the story. It’s already creepy to be in a place with little cell reception, but adding in the woods that no one seems to fully know and a lake that supposedly has dead bodies in it and it’s a recipe for being on edge the whole time. I never found myself missing the technology or the access to information that comes with most mysteries set in the current day. It was actually quite nice to have to figure things out the old fashioned way and added a layer of discovery to the story that I greatly enjoyed.
Unlike most books that feature artists as main characters, this one didn’t depict Emma as a starving artist. She had a good career with consistent buyers who were interested in her work. There wasn’t a struggle to create something that people would want to buy. And it was clear that she had a great talent for her work. Reading about the way she paints and what it feels like for her was so engaging and interesting. I felt her passion for art and her desire to solve the girls’ disappearance through painting them over and over again. The descriptions of her work were so beautiful and I’ve been looking online for an art piece that makes me feel the way Emma’s paintings do. I want to find something that feels like her work so I can hang it on my walls and be reminded of what it’s like to pour yourself into art that makes other people feel deeply.
In a rare twist for me, I actually didn’t mind the romance in this story. I could undertand why the characters were attracted to each other and how a romance would work between them. There were moments where I questioned how realistic it would be, but there was a connection that I couldn’t deny, even if it had some sketchy moments. Somehow, romances within mystery books always make me highly suspicious in a way that leaves me wondering how much I should root for it all the way to the end of the story.
This will be my favorite Sager book for a long time. None of his other books have lived up to the way this one captured my interest and had me hooked. I always appreciate that Sager includes several little plot twists before his final one. It helps because I know that there are always more things to come even if I figure out one of the twists before its revealed. This book did that so beautifully and it made me sit back in awe at how Sager layered all the different elements and subplots to create an ending that felt so satisfying.
Of all his books, this is the one I recommend the most and I will definitely be getting a physical copy for my shelves because I already want to re-read it.