Kate’s Review: “Home Before Dark”

50833559._sx318_sy475_Book: “Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, June 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: 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 nonfiction 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.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

Back when I was a teenager and I was using my Blockbuster privileges to rent horror movies, I took an opportunity to rent “The Amityville Horror”, classic haunted house/’based on a true story’ horror movie. I remember eating take out tacos form a local taqueria and sitting in the basement watching this movie, banished there as no one else in my family likes horror movies and the upstairs VCR was reserved for something else. I remember really enjoying it at the time. It was a few years after that that I came upon the ample evidence that it was all a hoax, a lie to give the Lutz family a nice pay day and to set up a murder defense for Ronny DeFeo, who had murdered his entire family in the house before the Lutzes moved in. I read the book a couple years ago, and taking it as the fiction story that it is I thought it was fun, if not a little cliche. When I found out that Riley Sager’s new book “Home Before Dark” was a haunted house story, and that was basically a homage to the entire “Amityville” saga, let me tell you I was incredibly excited and couldn’t wait to see what kinds of twists and haunts Sager was going to bring to this concept.

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I will admit I was hoping for a ghost pig. Maybe not named Jody. But some kind of ghost pig anyway. (source)

“Home Before Dark” has two stories within its pages: it tells the story of the book ‘House of Horrors’, a narrative of the Holt Family, who moved into the notorious Baneberry Hall, tried to live within its walls, but then ran after being there for a few weeks due to an increasingly violent haunting, never to return. The second is that of Maggie Holt, the daughter and the main target of the ghosts within the book, who had to live with the runaway hit that ‘House of Horrors’ became, even if she has no memory of such horrors happening and believes that it was all lies her father Ewan made up. The juxtaposition of Maggie’s present reality, and the reality that Ewan perhaps made up for his book, mesh very well together, and lend context to each other just when it’s most needed. Both mysteries we follow are interesting and kept me guessing, and as Maggie starts to wonder if perhaps her father wasn’t lying when her stay at Baneberry Hall starts to take strange and disturbing turns, it makes the reader all the more interested in what is coming next in the ‘House of Horrors’ section in the book. Sager puts the pieces in all the right places, and the suspense keeps building and you will keep questioning if maybe, just maybe, there are ghosts after all that are lying in wait for Maggie after all. I didn’t figure any of the twists or surprises out, which gives this extra points to be certain. Sager has always kept me guessing, and “Home Before Dark” was no different.

The scary moments are very well done, creepy and ominous and definitely scary enough to make me giggle with glee and just a little bit of hesitance. Sager sets the atmosphere and gives the house a very dark history, and while it definitely references some of the tropes that you expect in stories like this, it still feels very fresh and interesting. And ‘House of Horrors’ is just the perfect love letter to “The Amityville Horror”, with cheeky references and nods to an iconic haunted house that still lives (on even if it’s all bullshit at the end of the day). It was a great idea to give us that entire narrative as well, because that way you get two great tales for the price of one, and one of those tales is a stellar ghost story.

“Home Before Dark” continues Riley Sager’s streak of great thriller/horror stories. I always go into his new books worried that there will be a stumble, but as of now, he’s four for four. And “Home Before Dark” might be my favorite of the lot.

Rating 9: Another great scary story from one of my favorite scary story authors, “Home Before Dark” will give you the willies even on the warmest summer day.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Home Before Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “Horror To Look Forward To in 2020”. And if you want to experience the book it seems to take inspiration from, pick up “The Amityville Horror”.

Find “Home Before Dark” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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