Home Before Dark

I’m a sucker for a good haunted house story. While I’m a fan of horror movies in general, my favorites are always set in spooky old mansions that may or may not be inhabited by ghosts. So when I found out Riley Sager‘s new book would be a haunted house story, I was thrilled. I loved his last novel, Lock Every Door, and book #4 was high on my list of most anticipated releases of summer 2020. Luckily, Home Before Dark more than lived up to the hype.

Summary

Home Before Dark is actually a book within a book, and it’s told in alternating timelines. In present day, we have Maggie Holt, a young woman whose father just passed away, unexpectedly leaving her the infamous Baneberry Hall, where the family briefly lived 25 years ago. Maggie was only five at the time, and she has no recollection of the place, but apparently the house was haunted, causing her parents to flee with their only child in the dead of night. Maggie is certain the whole thing was a hoax, but she’s never been able to get the truth out of either parent. To make matters worse, her dad wrote a “true story” account of what went down, making them rich and famous, and inadvertently ruining Maggie’s childhood.

Now that she owns that horrible Vermont house, Maggie’s plan is to renovate it… and finally get to the truth of what happened all those years ago. But things start going awry instantly, and there may be more truth to the haunted house story than Maggie cares to admit…

Interspersed, we get to read what happened back in the 1990s with excerpts from House of Horrors by Ewan Holt. He paints a vivid story of a young family stuck in a house with an unreliable chandelier, music that plays on its own, and ghosts haunting young Maggie, going by names like Miss Pennyface and Mister Shadows. And with the house’s past of murders, suicides, and suspicious accidents, is it possible these spirits are out to kill the Holt family?

Review

From the very beginning, I was hooked. At first I was much more drawn to the past House of Horrors chapters; I loved getting a feel for the eerie house and seeing this family walking into what was sure to be a ghost-filled, terrifying few weeks. I’ve seen enough scary movies to always enjoy that giddy excitement at impending horror. And Home Before Dark – ahem, House of Horrors – delivered on that front. There were plenty of intriguing mysteries to keep me thinking, but also enough onscreen action to keep the pages turning.

Watch out for some freaky snake scenes, a chilling past of forbidden love and possible murder, and numerous ghost sightings from a scared little girl. Also, if you’ve never thought of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music as a little sinister… well, that’s about to change.

While those past parts were fun (that is, if you enjoy scary things, as I clearly do), it took me a bit longer to become as invested in Maggie’s present-day chapters. Her disbelief in her dad’s book was heavy-handed at times, and she felt a little flat at first. Luckily, that turned around soon enough.

Maggie met numerous characters and encountered plenty of weird events, which kept muddling things up and adding to the intrigue. The shock that really made the present-day setting come to life was the second mystery that arose. I didn’t see that coming, and it added much-needed stakes and doubt to those chapters.

I’m not much of a sleuth myself, so I don’t ordinarily guess whodunnit before a book’s reveal. But with Home Before Dark, I actually thought of two possible endings… and I got both of them right! Well, sort of. Riley Sager had some fun at the end with lots of twists and turns. Just when you think it’s all revealed, he pulls the rug out from under us readers and shows us a new layer. As it turns out, I didn’t guess the real ending, which is how I like it, because I was shocked until the very last page.

Final Thoughts

There’s more to Home Before Dark than meets the eye, and it was a twisty mystery with plenty of thrills and surprises. The setting was perfect, the backstory gave it exactly the texture I like in this genre, and it kept me guessing to the end.

Riley Sager is one of my new favorite authors, and I already can’t wait for his fifth book, due next year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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