Review: Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Charlie Jordan is being driven across the country by a serial killer. Maybe.

Behind the wheel is Josh Baxter, a stranger Charlie met by the college ride share board, who also has a good reason for leaving university in the middle of term. On the road they share their stories, carefully avoiding the subject dominating the news – the Campus Killer, who’s tied up and stabbed three students in the span of a year, has just struck again.

Travelling the lengthy journey between university and their final destination, Charlie begins to notice discrepancies in Josh’s story.

As she begins to plan her escape from the man she is becoming certain is the killer, she starts to suspect that Josh knows exactly what she’s thinking.

Meaning that she could very well end up as his next victim.

A game of cat and mouse is about to play out. In order to win, Charlie must do only one thing . . . survive the night.

College student Charlie is contemplating dropping out after her best friend is murdered by the college slasher serial killer. Agonising over the murder, Charlie decides to go home early in the semester, and agrees to a rideshare with Josh, a complete stranger.

Survive The Night is a patchwork of cliches stitched together, for better or worse, like the girl who does everything contrary to surviving, she’s occasionally an unreliable narrator and there’s something special about her. There is very little here you haven’t seen before, and Sager’s too practised not to know that, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume Survive the Night is meant to be satirical, in addition to being an appreciation of the genre. 

And I think it’s really dependent on the readers mood and preferences how these will be received. In one sitting it might irritate you by how unoriginal it all is, but then in another sitting it’ll be thrilling and entertaining. The point is, you’ll either love or hate it.

The story mainly unfolds through Charlie, but there’s the occasional perspective from Josh and other characters. Charlie is the typical horror heroine: she has a painful past she needs to conquer, has questionable credibility, yet is plucky and underestimates herself until she realises she’s got inner strength and can face off against a serial killer. Then there’s Josh, the stranger who’s agreed to drive Charlie. He’s quick to befriend Charlie and wants to get her chatting, and in the process, Charlie realises some things don’t add up. I really liked the tension building in the car between Charlie and Josh, and enjoyed the intermittent alternating perspectives as it livened up and made the book more engaging seeing what was going through both Charlie and Josh’s minds.

On the whole the arc of the story was thinly veiled. It was clear where the threads led and what their direction would be. But the most questionable element was Charlie’s awareness of knowing something was off, yet never seized multiple chances to escape. Impressively, Sager does attempt to provide flimsy justification to make Charlie’s actions of purposefully remaining in danger acceptable, but I suspect, these reasons won’t be enough for a number of seasoned mystery readers to accept. But, where unsurprising and unconvincing plot developments would usually frustrate and disappoint me, Sager managed to balance the read by how charismatic and readable the story was.

My favourite part of the book was the aesthetic vibes it had. I’m talking college dropouts, late night driving, mysterious stranger, 90s music Nirvana, snowfall/bad weather, isolated/remote showdown location and a quirky end. It was just so movieish.

Survive The Night is a love letter to classic horror films. It’s a great pick to get lost in if you’re looking for a late night binge or when you can’t settle on what to read, or you want something quick. Unfortunately I do feel it is the weakest of Sager’s novels to date, but it was still a whole lot of fun. It’s reminiscent of a guilty pleasure flick. You can critique it but you nonetheless tune in again and again into the early hours of the morning because it’s undeniably entertaining.

If you liked this, then you should check out No Exit by Taylor Adams and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, there’s a really good chance you’ll like them too!

Thank you kindly to the publishers and Netgalley UK for an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.

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