Ghosts and spooky houses – my old friends! I’ve loved a good ghost story for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, every time I went to the library, I made a beeline for works by the big names in scary middle grade/YA books.
You remember them. The books you couldn’t get your hands on until that other weird kid in class finally finished them. Books by:
- Betty Ren Wright (The Dollhouse Murders author, that creepy story where the dolls moved at night by themselves)
- Allan Zullo (The Haunted Kids series writer, providing kids with dozens of true-ish paranormal stories)
- Christopher Pike (Stephen King-lite for teenagers)
- Caroline B. Cooney (Author of The Face on the Milk Carton, which isn’t a ghost story, but she wrote lots of graveyard/ghost stories as well)
For whatever reason, I loved devouring stories about the paranormal. As an adult, this tendency has not changed. I still love reading about witches, magic, spirits, zombies, curses, the undead, you name it. Anything weird and offbeat piques my interest, as I love the idea of events occurring without logical explanations.
When I had the chance to read Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, I jumped on the opportunity. The book jacket’s description alludes to ghosts hiding out in wardrobes and bells ringing throughout a sprawling house – essentially, the types of creepy things I love, without gore and over-the-top violence.
Home Before Dark tells two interconnected stories at once. One of the stories is set in the past (25 years ago) when a married couple, Ewan and Jess, move their five-year-old daughter, Maggie, into an old Victorian home named Baneberry Hall. The massive house is being sold at a much lower-than-normal price, which we all know is never a good sign for any future homeowner. Ewan, a writer, is intrigued by the house’s gruesome history, learning that it was the site of not just one, but multiple murders.
The second story takes place in present day, from the perspective of the adult Maggie, as she revisits Baneberry Hall for the first time since she was a child. She has no memories at all of the 20 days her family stayed there. We do, however, learn she’s lived in the shadow of a book her father wrote about her family’s stay at Baneberry Hall.
In his book, Ewan claims that Baneberry Hall is haunted and after a series of increasingly dangerous paranormal events, the family was forced to abruptly leave all those years ago. From that time on, it was understood that he’d sold the house, but upon his death in present day, Maggie learns he still owned the house and has left it to her. She sets out to get answers about what actually happened two and a half decades before.
Home Before Dark starts out as a classic, jump-scare story that sets the scene for a series of spooky events. For the first two-thirds of it, I was hooked. I wanted to find out more about Maggie. I wanted to learn whether the house was actually haunted or if the father had written the book just for money.
Sager did a phenomenal job transitioning between the two simultaneous stories. I usually get lost when authors choose this format, but I had no problem keeping the events straight. I thought he alternated between them seamlessly, and I took note of the way he subtly told us one thing happened in the past and incorporated its result into the second (present) story. I think that ability is so rare in authors, and I admire his craft.
In the last third of the book, though, Sager lost me. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, but I felt like the last portion of the book became a bizarre series of false endings that spiraled into a confusing conglomeration of “twists” that had little logic. For the last couple of chapters, it seemed like every time I turned the page, there was a new “surprise,” so much that it started to feel like a soap opera.
I know some people will love the out-of-nowhere and quickly escalating ending, but it didn’t suit my personal preference. I was enjoying the book so much initially and had already invested a couple hundred of pages, that I was frustrated when I came to the ending.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book a lot and would still recommend it to a reader looking for a (mostly) ghost story, but I would have enjoyed it more if the author had stuck to possibly just one twist or so.
I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 crows.