“What was it like? Living in that house?”
Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a non-fiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity – and skepticism.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale.
But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.
Do I have the book to share with you this Halloween! Riley Sager’s latest novel, Home Before Dark; now out in paperback, is the perfect mix of genuine scares, horror stylings, and thrilling contemporary mystery that will have you turning the pages and sleeping with the lights on this spooky season!
Having previously read and enjoyed The Last Time I Lied, I was excited to see that Riley Sager’s latest thriller came with some additional spooky stylings. The former novel was packed with growing tension and page-turning plot beats so I was keen to see what the addition of some trademark horror tropes would do to that mix. The answer, it turns out, is to make it even more page-turning – and to provide more than a few ‘sleeping with the lights on’ moments!
Maggie Holt’s life has been defined by The Book – the tell-all memoir that her father Ewan wrote after her family’s fateful stay at Baneberry Hall. According to The Book, the vengeful ghosts of Baneberry Hall drove Ewan, Jess, and five-year-old Maggie away from their dream home, never to return. But after her father’s death, Maggie discovers that her parents never sold Baneberry Hall. Despite being warned to never go back there, Maggie is determined to make the most of her unexpected inheritance – she’s going to renovate and sell her family’s cursed legacy; but not before she gets to the bottom of why her family really fled all those years ago.
When the body of a missing teenager falls out of her kitchen ceiling, however, Maggie gets far more than she bargained for at Baneberry Hall. Could her parents really have been involved in a murder? Or are the strange noises and fleeting shadows of Baneberry Hall really signs of the supernatural? As Maggie starts to delve into the history of her father’s House of Horrors, she finds herself wondering if he was telling the truth about Baneberry Hall all along.
Whilst Home Before Dark continues to showcase Sager’s command of pacing and plotting, it serves up some genuinely spooky and atmospheric moments alongside the more familiar mystery-thriller territory of its main storyline. If you love ghost stories and ‘true life’ tales of the paranormal, you’re sure to love Home Before Dark which alternates between excerpts from Ewan’s Amityville Horror-style memoir and Maggie’s own investigations in the present day.
There are a fair few plot strands to Home Before Dark and, whilst none of them are especially complex in and of themselves, Sager weaves them together in a deeply satisfying way whilst keeping the tension up throughout. There is the occasional cliché – and I can’t say I was wholly surprised by all of the twists and turns – but the relentless pacing kept my disbelief suspended and, on the whole, I found the ending provided a satisfying conclusion to the various mysteries – both real and supernatural – that were contained within the walls of Baneberry Hall.
Probably the best recommendation I can give Home Before Dark is that I was supposed to be reading this as an October readalong with some of the gang from The Write Reads. I say ‘supposed to be’ because, having picked it up one rainy weekend, I found myself unable to put the book down and raced through it in a matter of days – well ahead of our set reading schedule! Whilst it’s not a book that’s likely to linger in my memory, I had a ton of fun reading this and was wholly gripped by the spooky shenanigans of Baneberry Hall.
Offering a tense mystery-thriller plot alongside a side serving of mainstream horror, Home Before Dark is sure to appeal to fans of Sager’s previous thrillers whilst also delighting fans of page-turning contemporary ghost stories and things that go bump in the night! If you haven’t read any of Riley Sager’s work before, this would be an ideal place to start – especially if you’re looking for a spooky seasonal read this Halloween. And for fans of Sager, what are you waiting for?!
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
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