Riley Sager | MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT Spoilers

The Book: 

Middle of the Night by Riley Sager
Published June 18, 2024 by Dutton
Date read: April 5, 2024

Find more June 2024 new releases here.

Middle of the Night spoilers can be found below, but they’re hidden under a spoiler tag so you’re safe to keep scrolling if you’d just like to read my review.

The Characters: 

His missing childhood friend Billy

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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The Plot (from Goodreads):

The worst thing to ever happen on Hemlock Circle occurred in Ethan Marsh’s backyard. One July night, ten-year-old Ethan and his best friend and neighbor, Billy, fell asleep in a tent set up on a manicured lawn in a quiet, quaint New Jersey cul de sac. In the morning, Ethan woke up alone. During the night, someone had sliced the tent open with a knife and taken Billy. He was never seen again.

Thirty years later, Ethan has reluctantly returned to his childhood home. Plagued by bad dreams and insomnia, he begins to notice strange things happening in the middle of the night. Someone seems to be roaming the cul de sac at odd hours, and signs of Billy’s presence keep appearing in Ethan’s backyard. Is someone playing a cruel prank? Or has Billy, long thought to be dead, somehow returned to Hemlock Circle?

The mysterious occurrences prompt Ethan to investigate what really happened that night, a quest that reunites him with former friends and neighbors and leads him into the woods that surround Hemlock Circle. Woods where Billy claimed monsters roamed and where a mysterious institute does clandestine research on a crumbling estate.

The closer Ethan gets to the truth, the more he realizes that no place—be it quiet forest or suburban street—is completely safe. And that the past has a way of haunting the present.

Middle of the Night Spoilers

Click here for MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT spoilers
Book spoilers ahead–if you haven’t yet read Middle of the Night, I suggest you turn back now.

Towards the beginning of the book, Billy’s remains are found at the bottom of the lake in the woods behind Hemlock Circle. It is forensically confirmed that it’s him, so there’s no chance that he’s still alive and come back to torture Ethan.

For a while, Sager takes the reader in a direction that leads them to believe that Billy’s ghost has returned to haunt Hemlock Circle and Ethan in particular. Billy was a big believer in ghosts and spirits, and present-day Ethan began researching the paranormal to see if Billy could be trying to contact him.

The reader learns that the day Billy disappeared, Ethan’s mother had been fired from her position at the Hawthorne Institute because she saw a ritual she wasn’t supposed to. Ezra Hawthorne was an eccentric who was studying the paranormal. Later that same day, all of the neighborhood kids went “exploring” at the institute. They got caught and all ran away, leaving Billy, who was trapped, behind to take the fall. The security guard brought Billy to meet Ezra Hawthorne, who was impressed by Billy’s interest in ghosts and told Billy he was welcome back at the institute any time.

Ethan’s wife Claudia was dead, not divorced. He would call her to hear her voice on the voicemail and to pretend that she was still out. I guessed this bit easily, thanks to another popular thriller with the same twist. The fact that she never picked up gave it away. Ashley suggested that Ethan was hallucinating Billy’s paranormal activity over grief about his dead wife: If Billy could come back and communicate with Ethan, that would mean that Claudia could too.

The Reveal:

Thankfully (you all know I hate the paranormal cop-out), everything in this book has a real-world explanation.

Ethan recreates his night in the tent with the detective’s help and remembers that Russ was the one who cut open the tent. This was an act of innocent childhood spite: Russ was jealous that the other boys never included him in their campouts, so he wanted to destroy the tent so Ethan and Billy couldn’t have them anymore. He just cut the tent open and left.

Mr. Wallace had seen Andy, Billy’s younger brother, sneaking around the backyards. I always suspect the surviving sibling of the missing kid whenever threats occur in the present day. I was glad that Andy was the culprit instead of Billy’s ghost even if this reveal was predictable.

Andy had been hiding out at the Hawthorne Institute, keeping an eye on Ethan, because he thought Ethan knew what had happened to Billy. Eventually, Andy kidnapped Henry to draw Ethan out. Ethan and Ashley chased them to the top of the falls, where Andy threatened to throw Henry over if Ethan didn’t confess what he knew. Ethan told him about Russ and insisted he didn’t know more, before Ashley surprisingly revealed that she was the killer.

A flashback to Billy’s POV gives the reader the rest of the story: Billy woke up in the night to find the tent cut open. He thought it was the work of a spirit. He decided to go back to the Hawthorne Institute to ask Ezra some questions, because Ezra said he was welcome any time.

As Billy made his way through the woods, Ashley was driving drunk back from a party. She didn’t have a license so took back roads to avoid detection. She thought she hit a deer, but hit and instantly killed Billy. She panicked, dumped his body in the lake, and told her parents she borrowed the car and hit a deer. No one suspected her.

The Ending:

Ashley was arrested for manslaughter and unlawful disposal of a body and went to jail. Ethan took Henry in and adopted him, and I bawled at the end when Henry called him “dad”. All the other families slowly moved away from Hemlock Circle, but Ethan stayed. He told Henry about his good friend Billy and gave Henry Billy’s ghost book.

I hope these Middle of the Night spoilers were helpful.

The Review: 

Thank you to @prhaudio and @librofm for this gifted ALC.

Y’all, I never expected a Riley Sager novel to make me cry like this one just did. I usually don’t get this attached to characters in thrillers, but my heart is bursting for Ethan, Billy, Henry, and the others.

I was so pleased with how this plot unraveled. While some reveals were guessable, others I didn’t see coming–it was the perfect mix. I liked how this thriller painted such a relatable picture of suburban living, with the eerie knowledge that events like this could happen in any neighborhood regardless of how idyllic it seems.

I scared the crap out of myself listening to it, too: right after I was listening to the part about Ethan seeing a shadowy figure on the edge of his backyard, I took my dog out to pee at night. When I turned around, my porch light barely caught the silhouette of a deer at the edge of the forest. Thrillers don’t usually actually scare me, but this one was creepy!

I do think I need to see a map of this neighborhood and its proximity to this waterfall, because my brain could not figure out how everything was aligned.

There’s an Easter egg nod to at least two of Sager’s previous books that had me wondering whether I’ve missed these hints in the past–let me know if I have! This book also fixed everything I hated about Sager’s previous book.

Finally, I adore Santino Fontana as a narrator. I think his narration is what made this listen so creepy. He nailed the voice of Joe in the Caroline Kepnes books, and his production of MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT was also unbeatable. I must seek out more of his performances, because I love them every time.

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