Thursday Thriller Audio: Survive the Night by Riley Sager
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (June 29, 2021)
Length: 10 hrs
Narrators: Savannah Gilmore
The year is 1991, and the story of Survive the Night opens on a cold November day as our protagonist Charlie prepares to leave college prematurely because of her overwhelming grief. Her best friend Maddie was the latest victim of the serial killer known as the Campus Killer, and Charlie blames herself. Like a movie, she replays the last time she saw Maddie over and over again in her head—because being a massive film buff, that’s what Charlie does to cope—wishing she could have done things differently, or taken back the last words she said to her best friend.
Eventually, Charlie decides returning home to her grandmother in Ohio would be the best course of action, even if it means leaving her life in New Jersey behind, including a serious relationship with a long-term boyfriend. He had offered to drive her himself, but Charlie knows that would just be delaying the inevitable. Instead, she turns to the college ride board and solicits a ride, knowing that chances of a reply would be slim since few people would be looking to leave in the middle of the semester. So when she gets a call from Josh Baxter, offering to take her to Ohio on his way back west to care for his sick father, Charlie is relieved but also a little wary. After all, her friend had just been murdered, and they never caught the killer; it would be wise to be a bit careful. Still, employed as a custodian at the university, Josh seemed harmless enough, not to mention Charlie was also desperate. She agrees to the arrangement, and together they set off on a snowy day.
Early into the drive though, Charlie begins to second-guess her decision, especially when she suspects Josh might not be telling the whole truth about himself. There’s reason to doubt Josh Baxter is even his real name, or that he had ever been employed by the university. He’s also dodgy about certain topics and seems to know more about her than he should—almost like he’s looked her up. As their car travels in the dead of night, through the featureless remote countryside, Charlie begins to wonder if she might just be sharing a ride with the Campus Killer. But she also knows she hasn’t been herself lately. Charlie’s habit of imagining movies in her head has been going a bit haywire, and it’s true that Maddie has been in her thoughts. Might it just be the guilt and anguish playing tricks with her mind?
I won’t mince words here. Considering how much I loved my last book by Riley Sager, which was Home Before Dark, I felt a little let down by this one. First of all, before the story even begins, you have to suspend your disbelief, and even though I’m somewhat used to doing so by now when it comes to thrillers, I still rarely expect to do it right off the bat. But that’s exactly where we find ourselves on the very first page, which sets the tone for the rest of the novel. We start with the elephant in the room, which is why in the bloody blue hell would any woman in their right mind get into a car alone with a man she’s never met, right after her best friend was brutally stabbed multiple times by an unknown serial killer and left for dead? Not too bright, that Charlie. And then there were all the holes in the plot, offering clear insight into why the author might have chosen to set this novel in the early 90s. That’s because in the age of cellphones, this story would never fly, and even then, there was a whole lot of shameless bending of logic and contortion of reality just to keep the ruse of a plot going.
But okay, I can go along with it. It was either that or accept that Charlie is the most senseless and ineffectual person in the world. To be fair, Sager makes a valiant attempt to explain away the inconsistences in her character by making her narrative extremely unreliable. In fact, her entire “movie geek” persona along with her habit of escaping into movie scenes in her mind seemed to have been created for just this purpose. As readers, we’re supposed to question if some of the things she perceives are real or not, with the goal of keeping us guessing about Josh. And hey, this did work, at least for a short while, until it became repetitive and then just downright silly.
The ending was something else though. For me, it improved the book substantially, though it appears reviews are mixed on the subject. The final reveal was pretty predictable, I’ll admit, which I had a feeling was inevitable, seeing as you can count all the characters in this book on one hand, leaving your options limited. Still, I liked the ending, because as contrived as it was, it helped break me out of the funk I was falling into for the first half of the book, and I won’t lie, the last few chapters were also pretty exciting.
Bottom line, I thought this book could have been better, but still, for a popcorny thriller read, I can’t complain. Annoying leaps of logic and a too-dumb heroine aside, I had a good time with Survive the Night and finished listening to my audio copy in about two sittings. Savannah Gilmore was an excellent narrator, despite me wondering if she might have felt as exasperated as I did with Charlie or if I’d simply imagined it in her voice. Overall, an entertaining thriller to pass the time.