Ebury Press, 2017, 352 pages
Ten years ago college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie-scale massacre. In an instant she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to - a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet.
Now Quincy is doing well - maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won't even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
That is until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Blowing through Quincy's life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy's life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam's truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started 10 years ago is finished.
But somehow we screamed louder, ran faster, fought harder. We survived.
Any fan of horror movies knows what a "Final Girl" is - she's the one who makes it to the end, after the hockey mask-wearing chainsaw-wielding undead cannibal serial killer has carved his way through an entire sorority, a football team, and half the local police department.
Final Girls gives a nod to 80s slasher movies, but it's actually a more or less down to earth thriller. Oh sure, there are Final Girls - three of them, in fact. Quincy Carpenter survived the horror at Pine Cottage. Lisa Milner was the sole survivor of her sorority. Samantha Boyd survived the Sack Man, who slaughtered his way through the motel where she was working until she stabbed him with his own drill.
Years later, Quincy has a nice life as a baking blogger, living with a sweet, dull boyfriend in Manhattan. She's blanked out the critical events of that night, and other than constant anxiety, a prescription for Xanax, and kleptomania, she considers herself to be living a well-adjusted normal life.
Then Lisa commits suicide, and Sam suddenly shows up at her apartment in Manhattan. Sam is not nearly as well-adjusted as Quincy - in fact, it's pretty clear her life is a mess. While she's trying to make a mess of Quincy's life too, the two of them learn that Lisa was actually murdered, Quincy begins unwillingly digging into what really happened, which, in true horror movie style, will of course inevitably lead her back to Pine Cottage.
Aside from the conceit of three "Final Girls" all sharing such similar experiences, this is a more or less realistic psychological thriller. The killers, in all three cases, were not supernatural, and had no special abilities - they were just psychos. Final Girls is more like Scream than Friday the 13th, and not even as cinematic as that.
But there are twists, and double-crosses, and then more twists, and of course, a climactic bloody confrontation with a killer.
Like the best thrillers, Final Girls is more about the tension and the suspense than blood and gore. The author knows you're going to be trying to guess who the real killer is, and does a very good job of laying false clues and misdirection and then executing some big twists to keep you uncertain. Of course the suspect list is still finite, so I give myself a B for the actual killer being my second guess.
This isn't a particularly scary book - it's more mystery than horror novel. But if you are a fan of horror movies, you'll probably enjoy it.
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