“The first great thriller of 2017 is here: Final Girls, by Riley Sager. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll like this.”
Final Girls by Riley Sager is a 2017 Horror Thriller novel. It is a Deconstruction of slasher movies that follows up on the long-term effects of surviving a massacre like so many young women in horror movies do.
Ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter was a college student who survived a real life horror movie when an escaped mental patient murdered her best friends while she was on a camping trip. A nervous wreck who runs a baking vlog, she struggles to maintain a Stepford Smiler facade. Her only friends are boyfriend Jeff and police officer Coop. She is one of the three "Final Girls" that have survived similar experiences with psychotic killers — beautiful, tragic, and newsworthy.
When Lisa, the only one Quincy had any contact with, suddenly commits suicide, Quincy finds herself contacted by the other Final Girl. Samantha attempts to force herself into Quincy's life and pressure her into unleashing her long repressed violent side. She also asks uncomfortable questions that force Quincy to confront her amnesia about the night that made her famous.
What did happen that night?
- Action Girl: Averted. While the women are labeled such, they were closer to Action Survivor types. Quincy is neither as she was never in any danger due to the killer's crush.
- Affably Evil: Joe Hannen seems an ordinary shy boy that can't possibly have been a serial killer. He turns out not to have been.
- Berserk Button: Quincy has a very well buried one: being threatened by men.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Tina Brody and Coop turn out to be this, though Coop is far more dangerous.
- Bittersweet Ending: Quincy has killed Coop but the other two Final Girls are dead. Tina also faces up to two years of jail time for the various crimes she committed trying to prove Joe's innocence. Jeff breaks up with Quincy when he finds out she cheated on him with Coop. On the other hand, Quincy will carry on Lisa's role as a teacher of Final Girls.
- Deconstruction: The book shows that any woman who survives an encounter with a murderous psychopath who kills all your friends is going to be a nervous wreck for the rest of their life, not a badass Action Girl.
- Dramatic Irony: Sam/Tina believes that Quincy is the Pinewood Cottage murderer and not her best friend Joe, who she was a patient at an asylum with. She's wrong and almost pays for it with her life.
- Final Girl: The central conceit is that the media tactlessly applies this appellation to three beautiful survivors of three separate in-universe massacres by serial killers. The attention only makes their lives worse and exacerbates their mental trauma. It turns out no one wants to treated like they survived a real life horror movie.
- Gone Horribly Right: Sam/Tina's attempt to go trolling for muggers gets an addict beaten into a coma by Quincy.
- If It Bleeds, It Leads: The reason Quincy is a celebrity is due to the fact her survival of a camp ground massacre makes national headlines.
- Insane Equals Violent: Played with in multiple ways. Joe turns out to have been a harmless mental patient who did nothing wrong. Coop, however, is a murderous serial killer. Sam was wrongly sent to an asylum for the insane. Quincy is violent when her PTSD is triggered.
- Manipulative Bastard: Coop. He successfully seduces each of the "Final Girls", maintains the facade as Quincy's most trusted ally, even manufacturing fake death threat mail to her to drive her back to him when she starts pulling away. He does all of this while being a serial killer who's pattern hasn't been identified by law enforcement.
- Mask of Sanity: Coop. He maintains the demeanor of a caring cop who will always be there for Quincy after saving her from the massacre at Pinewood Cottage. In reality he is a serial killer
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: Part of the reason why Quincy and the other Final Girls are so famous. They looked like conventionally pretty horror movie protagonists. It's implied Tina is irritated with them because of this due to the fact she survived a similar horrific experience but got no attention at all.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Quincy suffers a minor breakdown after beating a junkie into a coma.
- Our Slashers Are Different: Slashers are (apparently) just normal human serial killers. It's just that the media has sensationalized a specific group of them in order to promote the concept of three female Final Girls. Played with as the killers largely acted like movie villains during their murders rather than real life serial killers.
- Properly Paranoid: Jeff doesn't like Sam from the beginning and believes she's here to shake Quincy down for money. He's wrong as she's here to kidnap Quincy in order to get her to confess to the Pinewood Cottage murders.
- Rape as Drama: Tina used to be raped by her father until she killed him in self-defense, only to be disowned by her mother.
- Serial Killer: Joe and the other serial killers who made the Final Girls famous. Joe is innocent. It was Coop all along.
- Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny:
- Quincy is uncertain about having sex with her boyfriend on the camping trip. Their one attempt goes badly. So she ends up sleeping with mental patient Joe instead.
- Turns out to actually be a thing that Quincy suffers from in life as she's irritated with caring, sensitive partners and prefers to have a dominating sleazy one.
- Coop has this view of women. He kills, or tries to kill, each of the Final Girls after sex.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Quincy suffers PTSD that she keeps under control with Xanax and avoiding triggers.
- Slasher Movie: A literary version of one, or at least their aftermath. The Final Girls are a media sensation created by cynical publishers because their victims are pretty and their stories have a similarity to horror movie leads.
- Stepford Smiler: Quincy does her best to put on a facade of a happy, sweet, and bland young woman. It has done little to help her PTSD.
- Villainous Crush: Coop is revealed to have had one on Quincy the entire time, which is why he spared her life.
- Worst Aid: Sam/Tina deliberately tries to provoke Quincy's PTSD.