Home Before Dark: A Novel

Image of Home Before Dark: A Novel
Release Date: 
June 30, 2020
Reviewed by: 

“Although the multiple first-person points of view (written in different print fonts) can at times be distracting, Sager has laid out an exciting story that is hard to put down.”

“. . . Ghoulies and ghoosties, long-leggety beasties, and things that go bump in the night.” Does Maggie Holt remember living in Baneberry Hall over 25 years ago when her terrified family rushed out of the house after only a few weeks living there? Were the “ghoulies and ghoosties” real, or, as Maggie believes, just figments of her father’s imagination?

In his new thriller, Home Before Dark, Riley Sager poses those questions. For 25 years Maggie has lived with the results of her father (Ewan’s) book, House of Horrors, a book he claims to have been based in fact, and a book that made the family very wealthy. She has no personal memories of a short-term existence in the house; she has only what she has read between the book’s covers. But the price the family paid in her parents’ divorce, and her being bullied and questioned about her life at the Hall, leaves Maggie believing that the book is nothing more than bad fiction.

That is, until her father dies, and she discovers that he never sold the house, and she is now the owner. On his deathbed, Ewan warned Maggie she is not to go to the house—just sell it for whatever she can get. To go back could be her undoing. Not to be dissuaded by ambiguous warnings, Maggie disregards her father’s words and goes to the house.

Maggie has grown up to be a home renovator and with her decision to go to Baneberry Hall she will evaluate its resale value, once renovated, and put the “ghoulies and ghoosties” to rest, permanently. But upon her arrival, she quickly learns that is easier said than done. Within a short time, distressing events begin to occur; bells ring, an ancient record player mysteriously plays music; a lost child’s teddy bear strangely appears and disappears, a chandelier turns itself on when least expected, and a ghostly apparition in the forest next to Baneberry Hall makes appearances on several occasions.

Maggie begins to do her own research on the hall’s history and makes the acquaintance of local residents, some questionable characters in their own right, who remember the evening that the family left, and when Ewan’s book about the house and what happened to his family appeared, it was an immediate hit, drawing tourists and ghost hunters to the small Vermont town of Bartleby—an action that did not sit well with the citizens.

Sager has a unique approach to relating his story—he uses first person point of view through two different characters. He opens the book in Ewan Holt’s first-person point of view, 25 years earlier, when the family first moves into the house and encounters unusual events.

In Ewan’s chapters, the reader follows events that become more terrifying for the family with each passing day. Ewan researches the history of the house only to discover two deaths—one dating back to the first owner and then a second more recent murder. In both cases, the victim was the young daughter of the residents of Baneberry Hall. With each subsequent day, events become more frightening, until one night the family rushes from the house, leaving everything behind, never to set foot in the building again.

In Maggie’s chapters, Sager switches to her first-person point of view, current day, and her desire to curtail the rumors about the house, in spite of unusual events that unfold before her. She discovers that there were more than just two murders . . . and each one was a daughter of the family living in the house. She also learns of the disappearance of a neighbor’s daughter, Petra, who had babysat for Maggie. While the citizens of the town believe Petra ran away, there are a few who believe that Ewan was responsible for her disappearance. It’s not long before Maggie has her doubts about her father’s role in Petra’s departure, and as she grapples with these thoughts and works on her plans for the renovation, a body drops from the ceiling. Petra does not run away.

With this turn, as the reader follows two stories unfolding at the same time, they must determine if Ewan did or did not have a role to play in Petra’s life as well as what danger lurks in Maggie’s future.

Sager weaves these stories together, chapter by chapter, until Ewan’s chapters end. Sager then wraps up Maggie’s side of the story with very neat details that make sense and leave the reader with a satisfactory ending.

Although the multiple first-person points of view (written in different print fonts) can at times be distracting, Sager has laid out an exciting story that is hard to put down.