Friday, July 30, 2021

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager



Reviewed by Ambrea

Twenty-five years ago, Maggie Holt and her parents moved into an old Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall.  Less than three weeks later, they fled from their home in the dead of night and left everything behind.  Her father later penned a nonfiction book called The House of Horrors, chronicling their ordeal—and the hauntings that sent them running for their lives.

As an adult, Maggie has no time for her father’s lies and she’s not interested in rehashing her time at Baneberry Hall.  Not that she can remember any of it.  Instead, Maggie spends her days restoring old homes and flipping houses and avoiding her father’s book as much as she can—until, one day, after her father’s death, Maggie discovers she’s been left the keys to Baneberry Hall.

Now, she has the chance to return to her old home and figure out the truth behind the so-called “House of Horrors.”  When Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall, she soon discovers that her father’s book may have been more fact than fiction.

I don’t often read paranormal suspense.  Although I’ll dabble in lots of different genres, I’ve found I’m more drawn to rom-coms and fantasy novels, rather than thrillers and ghost stories.  However, I was intrigued by the premise of Riley Sager’s novel.  It promised to be interesting with the dueling narratives of father and daughter; likewise, it promised to be different—or, more accurately, it promised to be something entirely unexpected.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Home Before Dark completely upended my expectations.  I found the story didn’t follow the path I imagined—and I think that’s actually a good thing.  One part ghost story, one part mystery, and one part family drama, Sager’s novel weaves together the stories of Maggie, her dad, and Baneberry Hall to create a twisty story full of tragedy, ghosts, secrets, and lies.  More than once, I found myself completely and utterly lost in the story, wondering what would happen next…and who was actually telling the truth about Baneberry Hall. 

Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive about beginning Home Before Dark.  It took me three separate checkouts to finally settle down and start listening to the book.  Ghost stories tend to turn me into a gibbering mess, so I was a little reluctant to dive into something that promised to frighten me—I mean, what if it was too scary?

Much to my relief, Home Before Dark is more suspenseful than scary.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a few moments where I had to pause the audiobook and take a breath or double check all the locks in my house.  (I am not a big fan of Mr. Shadow, okay?)  Sager builds a slow, ominous feeling of suspense—a creeping kind of fear that craws up your neck and makes your skin prickle, a tense kind of anticipation that leaves you hanging on every single word—but he never makes it outright terrifying. 

I loved the plot, but I also appreciated the skill and talent of the narrators, Cady McClain and Jon Lindstrom.  They do an excellent job of narrating both Maggie’s and her father’s stories, and they really bring Sager’s novel to life. 

Overall, Home Before Dark is a fantastic audiobook with a talented pair of narrators, a solid if tangled plot, and an eerie atmosphere that’s perfect for fans of both ghost stories and psychological thrillers.

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