What does it take to survive the night?
WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD…
Our story begins in November of 1991, after a heinous crime has been committed – an Olyphant College student has been killed by the hands of a campus serial killer, leaving her best friend traumatized enough to take risks with her own life. If you haven’t read Survive The Night (2021) by Riley Sager, you are in for different twists and many turns, as the best selling thriller author of Home Before Dark (2020) and The Last Time I Lied (2018), takes us through the scariest night of all nights.
In Survive The Night, a roommate has just been killed, found two days after by the police and Charlie, the protagonist of this story, and she is tired of feeling guilty. On the night Maddy died, Charlie and Maddy had gone to a bar on campus. It was supposed to help Charlie become more social, but she soon finds out that the only reason Maddy insisted on her coming was because she (Maddy) was scared of walking home alone. Angered by this, Charlie walked out on her drunk friend in the middle of the night, the same night she went missing.
Maddy did not return home that night and at first it was okay, typical Maddy. But, when she still wasn’t back to their dorm room the next afternoon, Charlie became worried enough to call the cops. A day later, Maddy is found stabbed to death with a missing tooth. Charlie blames herself by insisting that if she had waited that night, her best friend would still be alive.
So in chapter one of Survive The Night, Charlie decides she can no longer continue with college. She wants to go home to her grandmother, because she feels guilty and decides to take a ride with a stranger. This stranger here is Josh Baxter. They drive many dark miles together talking about Charlie and her dead friend until she begins to suspect him of being dangerous, worse, of being the Campus Killer.
What follows in Survive The Night is a series of mind games, as we read Charlie trying to connect the dots between a fake I.D. card, pliers with bloody tips in the glove compartment, lies about being employed by the college, a false name, and the age of this mysterious driver. Josh displays all the deadly red flags seen in movies, and she considers jumping out of the moving car for fear of what he might do to her. But like all protagonists in countless horror stories, Charlie isn’t the perfect girl.
In Survive The Night, Charlie is someone you want to say has an overactive imagination, but you feel that phrase doesn’t quite do her justice. She sees unreal events, what she calls “movies,” in her mind sometimes and most times, it is difficult for her to say whether or not what she sees really happened. Many readers would agree that Charlie had many opportunities in this book, to escape her supposed would-be killer; when the car slowed down at a checkpoint, when a police officer asked her if everything was alright, and even when jumping out of the moving car was the only thing to do… but she didn’t exercise any of these choices. She couldn’t tell whether or not her mind made up those stories about Josh.
When Josh finally drives them to a lonely diner, Charlie goes into the bathroom and instead of escaping; she decides to avenge her best friend’s death. She refuses to confide in Marge, the aging waitress, who asks her point blank if something is wrong, and doesn’t say anything to the police officer who walks into the diner afterwards. She resumes her position in Josh’s car after calling her boyfriend, and they drive off.
Charlie waits her time in Survive The Night, and when she gets the chance, she stabs Josh in the gut with a knife she got from the diner. She runs out of his car with blood on her hands and clothes, back to the diner where a conniving Marge drugs her. It gets worse for Charlie in the same night, because Marge isn’t just some psycho waitress; she is also Maddy’s Grandmother who paid Josh to kidnap her. Marge takes Charlie to an abandoned building and literarily tries to pry the tooth out of her. She doesn’t believe the now-crying Charlie told the police everything needed to catch Maddy’s killer and blames Charlie for her granddaughter’s death.
Unknown to both Charlie and Marge, two things are happening close by. Charlie’s boyfriend, Robbie, had trailed Marge’s car to the abandoned building where they are now, after seeing her drag a semi-conscious Charlie into the car with her. Josh, who Charlie thought she left for dead, is actually not, and he tails an unsuspecting Robbie, who is following Marge, to the same building. There is a lot of shooting here, but Robbie and Charlie manage to escape. We think the story is all over now, until “a box of teeth” falls into Charlie’s lap in Robbie’s car. It is then that the truth in Survive The Night becomes terrifyingly clear…
If you are into horror reads with fast twists, the Survive The Night may just be your perfect summer read.
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