Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“I freeze, my sense of relief gone in an instant. Because although their words differ, my parents’ message is the same. Never go back there. It’s not safe there. Not for you.”
Damn, this was good! I knew Riley Sager from his second book, “The Last Time I Lied”, which I really liked. This one is even better!
“Home Before Dark” tells the story of the Holt family who moved into a house that “remembers” – and it hasn’t seen much love… In fact, it came cheap because Baneberry Hall is a veritable haunted house. Or is it not?
Our hero is Maggie Holt, the daughter, who doesn’t remember much (almost nothing, actually) about the house and their short time in it. After her father Ewan’s death, Maggie inherits the huge house and decides to renovate and sell it; after all, she’s an interior designer and has her own company. There’s more to it, though…
““I have a confession to make,” I eventually say. “Let me guess,” Dane says, deadpan. “Your real name is Windy.” “Close. I didn’t come back just to renovate Baneberry Hall. My real reason for returning is to try to figure out why we left this place the way we did.” “You think there’s more to the story?” “I know there is.” I tell him everything.”
Sager’s narrative switches between passages from “the Book” that Ewan Holt, Maggie’s father, wrote about his family’s short stint at Baneberry Hall 25 years ago and Maggie’s own musings here and now.
Often, both timelines feature similar events or mingle with each other which makes things even more interesting.
For me, this novel worked on several levels: The “haunted house” angle has always fascinated me and appeals to my taste for the mysterious. Getting the story told from both the past and the present alternatingly, made for a rare and almost artistic balance that supported the atmosphere because we feel there’s something off but we cannot put our finger on what it is exactly.
“I hold the page close to my face, as if that will help me better make sense of it. I’m still staring at those emphatic question marks when I hear a noise. A creak. Coming from the room next door. The Indigo Room.”
I’m not superstitious, I don’t believe in anything “supernatural”. I do love a good ghost story, though, and this is an excellent one which I didn’t want to put down. There were several key scenes that made me think I had figured it out but the solution in the end was as simple as ingenious – and, of course, I’m not going to spoil it for you. I didn’t see it coming and when I thought about a few seemingly loose threads, I quickly realised I had been doubly fooled!
It’s still not a perfect mystery: Maggie, as likeable as she is, remains largely flat and doesn’t really change or grow much over the course of the action. A few minor characters, e. g. the friendly neighbourhood ex-con, Dane, were a bit cliche and could easily have been improved upon had they gotten a little more time in the limelight (same goes for most secondary characters).
Nevertheless, this was a very satisfying read that prompted me to immediately start on Sager’s “Lock Every Door” and if you, like me, enjoy a good story, a haunted house and chasing shadows (or something more sinister?) – go for this book because…
“Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.”
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Home Before Dark by Riley Sager