Book Review: Survive the Night by Riley Sager

June 11, 2022


I have been meaning to read a Riley Sager book for a long time and failed to get to one under the mountain of other books which have fought their way to the top of my list. However, I recently found myself in a gap between ARCs and other books which were a priority and decided to finally tackle Survive the Night.

I’ve seen a lot about this book on social media – particularly bookstagram – recommending it as a great thriller. As you will know if you have read my other reviews/recommendations lists I’m a big fan of the genre, and this book seemed to have a lot of classic traits I look for.

The story opens with the narrator, Charlie, deciding to hitch a ride home from university with Josh, who responded to an ad she had put out on a ride share board. Charlie assumes he is another student and takes the chance on riding with him – but all is not as it seems. The context is important – there has been three female college students murdered over the last few months. Charlie quickly begins to notice some red flags about Josh – his story about who he is and where he’s going keep changing – and the realisation begins to set in that she is about to become the next victim of a serial killer.

However, what adds fuel to the fire of this premise is that Charlie herself cannot rely on what she sees. Due to trauma in her life, she has developed a disorder where her mind plays ‘movies’ in stressful situations rather than letting her see the truth in front of her. This leads to her imagining conversations which didn’t happen, seeing things which aren’t there – so she has no way of knowing for sure whether Josh is lying or whether she is imagining him contradicting himself. Charlie is up against Josh to survive the night – but also herself.

This is a very interesting book and it really kept me engaged all the way through. The opening is perfectly eerie – Sager conveys the panic of the confined space of the car very well to the reader. This is skilful, especially considering that the tension between the two strangers is built purely from their dialogue – they’re motionless in a moving vehicle, and suspense is built entirely from the rhythm of their conversation. I liked this as it made the book fast paced, and you find yourself as a reader looking for pitfalls in Josh’s answers to Charlie’s questions, trying to catch him out along with her.

The unreliable narrator element is also done well, and I did doubt throughout the book whether everything Charlie was seeing was inside her own mind. I think that would have been an interesting direction to take the book in, but towards the end Sager employs a series of wild twists which overshadow the brilliant suspense he built up earlier in the novel. Survive the Night makes a lot of reference to film noir (Sager is clearly a fan, as his new book publishing in June 2022 has borrowed heavily from Hitchcock’s Rear Window). I think what Sager could have taken from this genre is that sometimes a straightforward ending, which is foreshadowed properly and has the right level of suspense built up beforehand, can be more thrilling than a wild series of twists which lack credulity. There’s nothing more irritating than a good build up being ruined by a seemingly random ending.

Overall, I liked the book, and I’d probably give it 3/5 stars. It's a little bit far-fetched from the beginning, but then again, a lot of thrillers are. I think the car scenes are very well done and create that eerie feeling you’re looking for in a thriller, but the ending lets the book down and it ends up feeling like a screamo which lacks that key suspense element. It’s a shame because Riley Sager can clearly write suspense very well. I will definitely read some of his other books and hope that the ending in those gives that level of satisfaction necessary to make a thriller great!

Thank you for reading - let me know your thoughts on this book in the comments or add me on Goodreads for further discussion. A review of Sager's latest novel, The House Across the Lake, will be published on the blog later in June 2022 upon publication (review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review). 

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