First Line: Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.
Twenty-five years ago, five-year-old Maggie Holt and her parents moved into Baneberry Hall, a Victorian mansion in the Vermont woods. Three weeks later, they abandoned it in the dead of night. Maggie's father, Ewan, recounted their ordeal in a massive bestseller, House of Horrors. That book is the bane of Maggie's life. She hates it and believes that her father-- whom she does love unconditionally-- is the most dishonest man she's ever known because she doesn't remember anything in the book actually happening. As far as she's concerned, it's all lies.
When Ewan Holt dies, Maggie (who is now a restorer of old homes) returns to Baneberry Hall to renovate it for sale. She finds that the locals hate the book as much as she does, and that leads to an uneasy homecoming. Then strange things begin to happen-- straight out of her father's book-- and Maggie begins to wonder if the fiction is really fact.
I was in the mood for a scary house book, and Riley Sager's Home Before Dark delivers. Baneberry Hall (why would someone name his mansion after poisonous berries?) joins the ranks of my favorite spooky abodes with Shirley Jackson's Hill House and others. The first sentence pulled me right in because I do believe that houses can have stories and secrets to share, that people's experiences can somehow soak into the plaster and beams. One of the locals tells Maggie, "From what I've heard, that house hasn't witnessed a lot of love. It remembers that pain. What you need to do is make it forget." The question is, does Maggie have what it takes to make Baneberry Hall forget a very painful past?
Although other architectural details-- like the interior of the town library (!), that armoire in the Indigo Room, and others that shall remain nameless-- have landed firmly in my memory, Maggie Holt's journey to enlightenment has, too. She's a woman who doesn't know how to quit, especially when three momentous weeks of her childhood are coming to light. She's stubborn and distrustful, and she needs a lot of convincing, but Baneberry Hall gets the job done. Just how it does that, you'll have to find out for yourself.
Probably the best thing about Home Before Dark should please all those who don't care for any paranormal elements in their reading. Logic plays a very large role in uncovering the truth of Baneberry Hall's history-- but that doesn't mean I'd walk into that mansion without feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up. If you like being pleasantly spooked and solidly entertained, this is the book for you.
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Dutton © 2020
Hardcover, 400 pages
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.