Title: Survive the Night
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Horror, Mystery/thriller
Date of Publication: June 29 2021
Publisher: Penguin Group Dutton
It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.
Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?
What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing–survive the night.
Before the events of this book, Charlie’s best friend and roommate, Maddy, was brutally murdered by a serial killer named the “Campus Killer”. Charlie is wracked by guilt over the fight she’d had with her just before her disappearance. Having difficulty dealing with her grief, she realizes that she can’t stay at university any longer. She finds a ride back home with a fellow student, someone she hasn’t met before they cross paths at the rideshare bulletin board. Of course, because of this student’s schedule, they have to leave at night. It’s needless to say, (the book is called “Survive the Night”, but this is a book review, so I’m gonna say it), but this car ride is… intense.
Survive the Night is a classic film buff’s fantasy. The plot itself is quite simple, reminiscent of a Hitchcock film. The protagonist is named Charlie, after Teresa Wright’s character in the Hitchcock film “Shadow of a Doubt”. She’s studying film theory, and she is, quite literally, obsessed with movies. This becomes evident right from the very beginning, with the plethora of classic film references. The author mentions Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, and many film noirs and Hitchcock films. There’s one point where Charlie comments that watching Singin’ in the Rain is the closest you can get to heaven, and I couldn’t agree more. But I digress.