Riley Sager's latest Middle of the Night will keep you guessing until the last page

Middle of the Night by Riley Sager, courtesy of Penguin Random House
Middle of the Night by Riley Sager, courtesy of Penguin Random House /

Riley Sager has cornered the market on summer reading for thrill seekers, consistently releasing one each summer for several years now.

This time, Sager takes a somewhat different approach, featuring a male protagonist instead of a woman. His main character, Ethan Marsh, is still haunted by the disappearance of his childhood best friend 30 years later, and when you hear the circumstances of his friend's disappearance, you'll understand why Ethan is still so shaken up about it. The following review is spoiler-free.

Middle of the Night is a compelling, multi-layered story, a nail-biter that revels in the simmering horror beneath picturesque suburbia.

Now that his parents have relocated to Florida for retirement, Ethan returns to his childhood home to help manage the house until they decide what to do with it. It's that same house where the most traumatic event of Ethan's life happened to him over 30 years prior.

As a kid, he and his friend Billy Barringer were having a sleepover/camp-out in their backyard when someone slashed open the tent and seemingly abducted Billy right where he slept. Despite Ethan sleeping soundly beside him, he doesn't remember what happened that night, and Billy hasn't been seen since. The police never solved the crime.

What makes the entire story more frightening is an ominous organization nearby called the Hawthorne Institute, run by an eccentric billionaire with an occult obsession who built the institute deep in the woods behind Ethan's house. Is the Hawthorne Institute somehow connected to Billy's disappearance? Or is the culprit much closer to home? Like someone residing on Ethan's quiet, suburban cul-de-sac?

One thing Sager likes to do in his books is toy with the idea of supernatural vs. something realistic, often pulling a bait-and-switch right when you think you have it figured out. I won't spoil any details here, but if that's a theme you enjoy in horror novels, then Middle of the Night will be right up your alley.

I appreciated how the story continued adding layer after layer, mixing the present-day narrative with different perspectives from the day Billy went missing to fill in the gaps and slowly unveil the truth behind his disappearance. Just when you think it's going to zig, it zags, kind of thing. It makes it pretty hard to guess what happened, and while you might form theories early on, the way things unfold will quickly prove you wrong.

As much as I enjoy Sager's novels, one thing I haven't always liked is the romance. Many of his books tend to add love interests that I find unnecessary. But Middle of the Night more or less avoids that trope. The characters feel more grounded, and any romance you find serves the story and characterization rather than feeling superfluous.

If you're like me and enjoy when thrillers and horror novels add in "real-life" elements like characters sussing out stuff on the internet, reading in-universe articles, or surfing the web, then you'll really appreciate those elements of Middle of the Night, too. It's not epistolary or anything, but it always further engrosses me in the storyline when I can imagine following a character's footsteps and searching things up on the internet.

But perhaps the most compelling aspect of Middle of the Night is something I touched on earlier. There's a good chance you will not see the ending reveals coming. As someone who reads a lot of thrillers and mysteries, it's hard to surprise me, and this book has achieved that. There are many red herrings and subplots that keep the reader on their toes, so you're never quite sure what direction the story will take.

In short, Middle of the Night is a great novel to read... well, in the middle of the night. It's summer horror reading at its finest and the perfect choice to pull you out of a reading slump!

Also, if you're a fan of Sager's other works, you might notice a fun nod to two of his other novels, Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied that establishes all three books as set in the same universe.

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