If we’re talking about authors that have recently started to establish themselves, I have to give a shoutout to one of the best in the last 6 years!
With an ability to turn pretty much any classic thriller setup into something fresh, and some of the freshest protagonists that are both intriguing and sympathetic that I’ve read in years, Riley Sager is going to be an author to keep an eye out for over the next few years.
Though come to think of it, it’s not exactly like Sager is a fresh-faced author, after all. They have already published 6 books in 6 years under this pseudonym!
However, that might leave newcomers with a tough topic to think about: Which book should they start their deep-dive into Sager’s work?
Well, fret not, my reading buddy! I’ve collected them here for you, listed them in order, and ranked them with my reading recommendation in mind.
Who Is Riley Sager?
There might be some people who have clicked on this list, and do not know who Riley Sager even is.
Normally that would be a gut punch, but given that Sager is a relatively new name on the block, allow me to give a little background to this fresh-face thriller fanatic!
Riley Sager is the nome de plume of one Todd Ritter, a native of Pennsylvania.
While he had written and published a few stories under his original name, they didn’t sell quite well.
While there’s no evidence of a single memo or moment where this new name was finalized, you can easily extrapolate that both Todd and his publisher decided that a new name would allow for a fresh start for the author’s prospects.
Plus, the name comes off as relatively gender-neutral, so people with a preference for men and women writers would both consider his work.
For the rest of the list, however, I’ll just refer to him by his pen name.
Final Girls: A Novel (2017)
We’re starting this list, as all the best lists do, in the beginning, with Sager’s first published work under his new pen name, Final Girls: A Novel.
And it’s a doozy, with a great cast of characters, and a killer setup. Quite literally!
We follow Quincy Carpenter the sole survivor of a horror movie-esque massacre at Pine Cottage Her survival puts her firmly in the limelight of the media and police, as well as in contact with a list of other single survivors.
Despite the shared pain, being around each other just reminds them of a painful past, so the group of 3 never actually meet, desperate to put the past behind them.
It’s this point where we pick back up with Quincy, 10 years later.
One of the other girls, Lisa, has been murdered, and the other survivor, Sam, is on her doorstep, talking nonsense about a time that Quincy would like to keep buried.
The book and writing are practically oozing with genre-savviness, from the plot line to the characters, the location names, and even the title of the book.
However, Sager has a deep love for the genre. This isn’t a Scary Movie scenario, played for kicks and giggles. This is a certified thriller story, through and through.
What a phenomenal first outing under this new name!
- Sager delivers a great twist on the classic thriller/slasher genre, with our main cast of characters!
- A must-read for the 80s and 90s slasher fans!
- The final reveal is great, but the story continues for quite a while after.
The Last Time I Lied: A Novel (2018)
We’re on the Riley Sager thriller train now, and there’s no sign of it slowing down in this next entry!
Our story starts in Camp Nightingale (Classic slasher location name, we’re off to a good start here!), and Emma Davis is on her first camping trip.
Her new friends, Allison, Natalia, and Vivian, all dare each other to go out into the woods in the dead of night.
And with one last hushed whisper at Emma by Vivian, the 3 girls were never heard from again.
Cut to the present day. Emma is a successful commercial artist and painter, with her past influencing her style, often with ghoulish or unnerving elements in her work.
Eventually, current Camp Nightingale owner, Francesca Harris-White, gets a taste of her style and insists that Emma does a class on painting at the camp.
Emma, wanting to know exactly what happened, takes her up on her offer.
While this story arguably plays the slasher elements pretty straight, there are plenty of crime and investigation elements that help elevate this book above just another slasher novel.
- A web of mystery and lies unfold at a phenomenal pace. There isn’t a dull moment!
- Our protagonist is easy to root for.
- A lack of description of the surroundings of our protagonist makes it feel a little less grounded and harder to believe.
Lock Every Door: A Novel (2019)
Jules Larsen is working as an apartment sitter in New York and seems to hit it big with the next apartment she’s looking after, the luxurious and mysterious Bartholomew.
The only problem? The owner’s requests seem strangely arbitrary, and not a little paranoid.
No visitors, no spending nights away from the apartment, no disturbing the rich and famous neighbors, and, of course, lock every door.
Why the last one needed to be mentioned hung over Jules’ head as she gets to know the other residents, including a younger apartment sitter Ingrid, who reminded Jules of her lost little sitter.
So, when Ingrid goes missing the morning after giving a grave warning, naturally Jules starts to dig into the complex’s dark and sordid past.
This book is a slow burn, but one that starts to come together as you start to put the pieces together along with Jules.
Great if you love a little dark New York history!
- There are some genuinely clever twists and plot points that will leave you floored.
- A setting that feels modern, while calling back to the haunted mansions of yesteryear!
- The protagonist this time around might be a little too whiny or annoying for some readers.
Home Before Dark: A Novel (2020)
This time, we’re going for a more classic horror setting. That’s right, it’s time to head over to a good-old-fashioned haunted house in Home Before Dark!
Maggie Holt doesn’t believe a word of her father’s mysterious account of the ‘haunted house’ that their family owns.
But when she inherits said Baneberry hall and plans to renovate and sell it, she finds a world of darkness and haunting secrets she was not prepared for.
- Who doesn’t love a good haunted house setting?
- The rural Vermont setting is extra creepy!
- The last section of the book does drag its feet, unfortunately.
Survive The Night: A Novel (2021)
A tale of hitchhikers, suspiciously vague drivers, and curious main characters.
Everything that you could love about Sager is compressed into a single, beaten-up pickup truck in this next novel, right here!
Playing with classic genre tropes, The long trip back to Ohio for Charlie and Josh, two strangers, is just as tense and thrilling as you could imagine.
- A novel setting, combined with a very real and tangible anxiety/fear, makes the tension in this book palpable.
- Once again, this is a great book for 90s thriller fans!
- There is a plot twist in the middle of the book that not everyone will like.
The House Across The Lake: A Novel (2022)
Listen, we’ve all been in those situations where you just want to escape from the surrounding drama in your life.
It’s a feeling that Casey Fletcher, an actor trying to escape some bad press, is all too familiar with as she retreats to her family’s lake house.
However, not only is this the place where her husband died, but it’s also where she rescues supermodel Katherine Royce.
As the two get to know each other, sinister secrets start to spill, as the two starts being a little more honest about their… curious tendencies.
- Two central characters that you want to watch unravel!
- The setting is idyllic, and yet there’s just a hint of creepy that keeps it unsettling.
- It might take more than one read to fully appreciate.
Closing Notes – Which Is My Favorite?
So, here, we are, at the final stretch. And only one question remains: Which one is my favorite?
Well, to be honest, this is where I have to give a kind of cop-out answer. Pretty much all of these books are entertaining in their way, and are all perfectly fine starting points.
But, if you’re asking my personal opinion, I’d rank these books like this:
- Final Girls
- The Last Time I Lied
- The House Across the Lake
- Survive the Night
- Home Before Dark
- Lock Every Door
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Books Has Riley Sager Written?
While the name of Riley Sager has 6 novels attributed to it, Todd Ritter has written a total of 9 books so far.
Which Books Should I Read First?
Final Girls has just enough of the tropes you recognize, while being fresh and new, that this is a good place to start.
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