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Final Girls / Riley Sager

Dutton / July 2017
Reviewed By: Vince A. Liaguno

It was hard to escape the pre-release buzz for Final Girls, the debut novel of pseudonymous author Riley Sager. As early as December of last year, Stephen King tweet-proclaimed that the book was “the first great thriller of 2017.” And if the King gives something his bloody stamp of approval, it’s got to something special, right? Disappointingly, not so much in the case of Final Girls, a competent-enough, by-the-numbers thriller in which concept outperforms execution.

The set-up is strong and pulls the reader right in: Quincy Carpenter, as sole survivor of a bloody woodlands massacre, is a reluctant member of an elite “club” dubbed Finals Girls by the media. Readers familiar with slasher films will immediately recognize the term, coined by noted film scholar Carol Clover to denote the survivor (almost always female) of said film’s carnage. The other two members of the Final Girls are Lisa Milner, survivor of a sorority house massacre, and Samantha “Sam” Boyd, last girl standing after a mass murderer known as “the Sack Man” butchers staff and guests of a seedy motel. When one of these final girls ends up dead and another on the doorstep of Quincy’s swanky New York City apartment, the mystery begins. Unfortunately, the thrills do not.

While thriller and horror movie fans alike may be drawn to Final Girls initially, the book’s plodding first half may present a challenge to readers. Plagued by interminable passages during which the heroine bakes muffins and cupcakes in between popping Xanax and swigging grape soda, the first half of Sager’s novel seems hell-bent on clobbering readers over the head to reinforce two key points: Quincy may not be the most reliable of narrators and Sam may not be all she seems. What little action the novel’s first half does present shuffles back and forth between late night conversations in Quincy’s Upper West Side apartment and some later-night silliness in Central Park that feels forced and extraneous to the plot. These early proceedings have a YA feel to them, and this reviewer was struck with the idea that the intended audience may be teenage girls more than once. Indeed, a puerile food fight at what should have been a crucial dramatic juncture moving into the book’s third act does little to dispel this feeling.  

Thankfully, the novel’s decidedly better-paced second half kicks in with earnest gusto. Although savvy thriller readers will have spotted the novel’s biggest plot twist (there are several of varying merit) early on, Sager does an excellent job ratcheting up the tension and reveals leading up to it as Final Girls enters its third and final act. Sager displays far better command of this more action-oriented thriller portion of the novel and readers will find themselves sucked in again as dread mounts and shocks abound.

Regrettably, the strongest camaraderie Final Girls shares with slasher films is its reliance on convenience (Oh, look…a mental hospital out in the middle of the woods near that isolated cabin!) and people doing illogical things. While there seem so many missed opportunities for winks and nods to fans of slasher movies (who will be drawn to Final Girls), there is a nice subversion of one of the genre’s fundamental playbook rules that’s nicely executed. Think: Cherry Falls.

Books like Final Girls are a peculiar thing. Like films with deafening pre-release buzz, it’s a novel whose enjoyment may be filtered through a lens of greater expectation than it’s capable of delivering. It wears its Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train influences proudly—if not a bit obviously—but readers may be expecting something more. Alas, the only icing to be found in Final Girls is used on the heroine’s cupcakes. Taken as a solid—if slightly formulaic—thriller, Final Girls succeeds. Ultimately, it may prove a case that its eventual movie adaptation will prove better than the source material.

Purchase Final Girls by Riley Sager.

Posted on Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 02:35PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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