Friday, January 8, 2021

Book Review 2020 #8 - Riley Sager's Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: June 30th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Imagine being known your entire life as the girl who survived one the the country's most notorious haunted houses. Now imagine that notoriety is all your father's fault for publishing the experience in a book that rivaled The Amityville Horror in sales and skepticism. House of Horrors has haunted Maggie her entire life. What's more galling than the endless questions about Baneberry Hall is the fact that she can't remember anything that happened. Therefore she has grown up a skeptic. Ghosts don't exist and her father obviously made everything up as a cash grab, feathering their bank account and destroying Maggie's life and his marriage to Maggie's mother in the process. But when he dies Maggie learns a surprising fact, he never sold Baneberry Hall. He could have made a killing turning it into a tourist attraction, further incensing the ire of the locals, but instead he held onto the property. Fueled by her past Maggie has grown up smart and sensible and is a home restorer, proving on a daily basis there's nothing to fear in the walls of old houses but vermin and mold. Therefore upon learning of her windfall she does the logical thing, she returns to Baneberry Hall to assess it, fix it up, and sell it. A move that her mother begs her not to do. In fact she flat out offers to buy the house from Maggie so that she won't return to that horrible place. Her mother's insistence to stay away makes Maggie even more curious. This is nothing more than a house they're talking about. Sure it's big and rambling but there are no evil forces, because there are no such things as ghosts. Or are there? Because once in the house Maggie starts to experience what could be categorized as otherworldly phenomena. She also starts to remember what her father wrote about all those years ago. But that book can't be true can it?

I don't know why but while most people read horror around Halloween for some reason nothing says horror to me like a hot summer day with the cicadas singing. The long summer evenings where the light is still present to keep the horrors contained within the pages of a book at bay. Or pulling the shades down against the setting sun and watching a horror film before the creatures can reach out of the dark corners and worm their way into your nightmares. I devoured Home Before Dark over a few hot July nights and it easily became my book of the summer. It had everything I hope for in a book, I even got the bejesus scared out of me one night because I turned out the lights and my room was filled with a luminous glow. Turns out this book was designed by some genius graphic designers who used luminous ink on the cover. I tip my hat to you whomever made me almost crap my pants. What I particularly loved about Home Before Dark was the switching of the narrative between Maggie in the "present" and chapters from her father's book. House of Horrors was perfectly written in that it stylistically captured that specific genre of "true" hauntings from the late seventies and the early eighties. I was a kid again getting scared by a story just because it said it was "based on true events!" What's more is this book pays tribute to all the great haunted house books, in particular The Haunting of Hill House and the recent Netflix adaptation that I couldn't get enough of. In fact I think this book might make the rota of spooky books I return to again and again. Let's put it this way, this book has made Riley Sager a must read author with me only having picked up one of his four volumes in print.


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