Book Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We all have that one author that is an automatic buy whenever they release a new book.  For me, Riley Sager is that author.  I’ve read every book he’s published, own each one in a beautiful hardcover edition, and always recommend his books to anyone that asks.  I have never been disappointed by Sager’s books and somehow each book he writes is better than the last.  His latest release, Home Before Dark, is no exception!

Inside Book Flap:

Bells that ring themselves.  Record players that turn on and play music to empty rooms.  Ghosts that climb out of wardrobes…

Maggie Holt doesn’t believe in these things, even though they are the details of the story that made her family famous.  Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods.  They spent twenty days there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a horror memoir, House of Horrors.  His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity – and skepticism. 

Maggie has lived her life in the shadow of her father’s book, so when she inherits Baneberry Hall after his death, she returns to renovate the house to prepare it for sale.  However, her homecoming is anything but warm.  People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows.  And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father.  Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds.  As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of Ewan’s book, she starts to wonder if what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

Alternating between Maggie’s uneasy homecoming and chapters from her father’s book, Home Before Dark is the story of a house with long-buried secrets and a woman’s quest to uncover them – even if the truth is far more terrifying than any haunting.

Review:

My first reaction to this book is WOW!  The book within a book format worked so well and transitioned seamlessly.  I loved how each chapter of House of Horrors mirrored the moments that Maggie was experiencing during her return to Baneberry Hall.  This format could have felt choppy and disjointed, but it was flawless and the only way to effectively tell this story.  I went back and forth throughout my time reading trying to decide which book I was enjoying more.  I have to say I flip-flopped repeatedly, but in the end, the House of Horrors chapters were my favorite.  The way unsettling events were described in those chapters was so much more disturbing than Maggie’s current experiences.  Maybe it was because it was the first time the Holt family experienced the hauntings or maybe it was the embellishment of those moments.

Maggie brings the same doubt and skepticism many of us would when returning to our haunted childhood home…has anyone had a haunted childhood home?!  This makes her an extremely relatable and likeable protagonist.  Her distrust of her father’s account of what happened at Baneberry and what drove them away in the dead of night is understandable.  She was young, but with everything her father wrote about you’d think she would remember something.  This is the driving force behind her uncertainty regarding her father’s book.  With each uneasy moment spent inside the walls of Baneberry Hall, Maggie begins to question herself, her sanity, and whether this really is a house of horrors.

Sager’s books don’t typically have a scare factor, but I think he turned a corner with Lock Every Door.  There were moments in that book that had me on edge, but Home Before Dark had me jumping out of my chair!  There’s one moment, I won’t go into detail and ruin it for those that haven’t read, but I found myself picking my feet up off the floor and tucking them under me.  I even had a nightmare one night and woke myself up yelling “NOOOOO!”  There are not many books that can achieve this, but Sager did it with Home Before Dark.  I loved his use of common horror tropes and the way he paid homage to classic scary moments without coming across cheesy and overplayed.  I will never again watch my favorite movie the same way after reading this book and for that I will never forgive Mr. Sager. 

This may not have been my favorite Riley Sager book, but it definitely was the most fun!  I love when a book makes me feel things in such a magnified way and occupies my thoughts even when I’m not reading.  The nice thing about Sager’s books is that I can recommend them all because I truly believe that each one is amazing.  I am thrilled that Dutton has signed on for three more books and cannot wait to read them all!

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