A decade has passed since Quincy Carpenter, on who the book “Final Girls” is centered, became the only survivor of killer, Joe Hannen’s deadly rampage. The incident, in which five of her college friends perished, was dubbed the ‘Pine Cottage Murders.’ Ten years later, Quincy lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend, Jeff. He is a lawyer in the public defender’s office, and she spends her days working on her successful blog, where she provides her readers recipes and photographs of baked desserts she makes. She has claimed, since the traumatic events of Pine Cottage occurred, that she can’t remember much of what took place, and she has steadfastly stuck to that story. In order to cope with anxiety, and any uncomfortable thoughts that begin to enter her mind, she takes Xanax. The only bad behavior she seems to engage in, at least at the start of the novel, is that she steals. For example, she takes a woman’s iPhone off of a table at a diner because she likes how shiny it looks. Quincy has a locked drawer in her kitchen, filled with other stolen objects that she has taken. Furthermore, she relies on the friendship of Coop, the police officer who came to her rescue the evening of the massacre. He is seemingly willing to forgo whatever he is doing at any given time, and come to visit Quincy in person, or speak to her on the phone, if she needs his advice.
In addition to the ‘Pine Cottage Massacre’ being the event Quincy is best known for, the media have dubbed her a ‘final girl.’ The name is taken from movies such as “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” where final girls, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), are the only female survivors of the onslaught that has taken the lives of their friends. In Riley Sager’s novel, there is not one, but three final girls, that he writes about; the other two were involved in equally horrific events.
The catalyst for Sager’s psychological thriller is the death of final girl, Lisa Milner, who years earlier had survived knife wielding madman, Stephen Leibman, who cut up nine of Lisa’s fellow sorority sisters at the college she was attending in Indiana. She has been found in her bathtub, the apparent cause of death is suicide. Prior to taking her own life, Lisa had become an author and child psychologist. Additionally, she was always available to help other women that were dealing with trauma. The incident prompts Samantha Boyd, the other surviving final girl, who thwarted the plans of Calvin Whitmer – The Sack Man – while working the evening shift at the Nightlight Inn located in Tampa, Florida. She has been a recluse for years, but has come out of hiding to seek out Quincy in New York City. The two make for, at times, a combustible duo. In addition, Sam seems fixated on having Quincy open up about her past regarding what took place at Pine Cottage. (As an aside: This is Sager’s first novel published under the name Riley Sager, a pseudonym for author, Todd Ritter, a fact which the author confirmed on Twitter in 2017)
One of the aspects of the novel that I found the most appealing was, that rather than focusing the narrative on the abhorrent crimes, Sager opts to concern himself with the aftermath of the events. He is more interested in exploring where his characters are post tragedy, especially Quincy, and how the women are dealing with, or trying to forget the past. I am not suggesting that if you read the book, you won’t learn what took place for each of the final girls – you will; but that is not the main premise of the novel.
Does Quincy really have repressed memories about what happened at Pine Cottage? Is she an unreliable narrator, who is purposely keeping something secret to protect herself, or someone else? Why is Samantha Boyd insistent that Quincy remember her past? What purpose would it serve? Did Lisa Milner commit suicide, or was she the victim of murder? Those questions and more will be answered by the novel’s conclusion.
“Final Girls” was published on July 11, 2017 by Dutton, which is part of Penguin Random House. Sager’s 352 page novel is well paced and contains a good deal of suspense. There were several times when I thought the story was headed toward a particular reveal, only to have Sager write a twist, that changed my thinking. The ending, for instance, was one that I didn’t see coming, and I was glad not to have figured it out before the last pages. The interactions between Quincy and Sam helped to keep me guessing until the end. I will stop the review here because I don’t want to give any more specific plot reveals, they would only serve to ruin the novel for those of you who want to read it. In addition to holding my interest throughout, I’ll reiterate, that I thought “Final Girls” offered an interesting premise to a genre, that can at times, be saturated with too many formulaic offerings.