It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.
Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?
What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing–survive the night.
Survive the Night isn’t my first Riley Sager book. In fact, I read a lot of his other ones as well. I enjoyed Home Before Dark but found Final Girls lacking on so many levels. So going into this one I was a bit nervous. I didn’t know if it was going to be more like the one I liked or more like the one that I didn’t. The concept of the book seemed interesting to me – it sounded like something that would catch my attention and hold it for a period of time. Usually, I can finish Sager’s books quickly. This is because they are often fast paced and don’t take much “critical thinking” to read.
This doesn’t mean they’re bad – they’re not. But I don’t have to sit there are parse through things. I can read and guess at the mystery or what’s happening which is enjoyable for me to do. I’m usually wrong about everything, which is quite amusing to me. I’ve never been a terribly good guesser at these mystery books. Maybe that’s why I like them so much. In the end this book ended up being more like Home Before Dark for me, especially with the twists in this one.
I 100% did not guess the twists right AT ALL in this book. I said I was bad at it, I was really bad at it. But the twists were interesting, because Charlie and her mental health issues made her a very unreliable narrator so you wondered how much was true and how much was in her imagination in this book. Most of this book is told from Charlie’s perspective but at about halfway through we switch to Josh’s POV. Adding in his POV made the book become a lot more spooky, because you’re wondering about his motivations. Is he the serial killer or not? He’s clearly lying about something…and Charlie struggles to figure out the truth on this long car ride.
What makes the book more eerie for me is the fact that it takes place in 1991 – which means, yes, there are no mobile phones for regular use – only payphones. I think this book evoked a fear in me – of being without a phone and with a (maybe) serial killer. But that made the book a lot more atmospheric. Just the whole tone of the book as well really added to the feelings the book gave me. It was certainly really interesting.
The ending was VERY surprising. It was a twist within a twist, and it was that second twist that I didn’t guess, but I guess I should have with all the hints that were dropped. Or maybe there weren’t and it was out of the blue. This book also took place in a very short span of time, just over the course of a night.
At the same time I was really annoyed with Charlie – because girl, some of your decision making skills are seriously lacking. I mean SERIOUSLY. I guess that the whole premise of this is based on Charlie just not making the greatest choices. In the end though, that’s the premise of the story and what makes the story good is Charlie’s lack of thinking skills. Or ability to tell the truth from a lie.
Overall, I liked this book. It was a firm 3 star read for me. It was an enjoyable few hours that I spent reading it. It isn’t a book that I would reread though, as I think that it was best read once, and after that it lacks the same “shock” value.
As another reviewer said, going into this book blind is the best.