New Release Review | Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Standalone
Thriller/Mystery
Dutton Books | June 30, 2020

About the Book: What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. 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 three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called 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.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But 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 her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

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Home Before Dark was scary.

So far all the books I’ve read by Riley Sager have creeped me out, but Home Before Dark played on some of my worst fears. I tend to read a lot before going to sleep, and while I’m reading my husband tries to sleep. Not that night. I kept waking him up to . I thought, for the first time, a book was going to give me nightmares.

That’s when you know you’re reading an author who can write!

I also realized something else while I was inhaling this book. Riley Sager has a really powerful way of weaving fear with sadness in each book. Sure, Home Before Dark was full of great twists and unexpected turns, but it was the sense of melancholy threaded through the fear that sets him apart from other authors in the genre.

Riley Sager also tells two stories in one. In previous books there was a past present story, and in a sense this one was the same format. However, it was also the present day story, alongside chapters from Maggie’s father’s book, House of Horrors. Both halves were equally good, but now I wish Mr. Sager would just write House of Horrors anyway, because I want to read the whole thing! That’s where (I thought) most of the scares were!

There was a downside though.

For the first time, I felt like the secondary characters were flat. Maggie’s father was portrayed wonderfully, but with chapters from his perspective (House of Horror chapters) it was easy for us as the reader to care for him. In order for us to feel the same way about all of them, they would have needed a lot more fleshing out. For instance, Maggie’s mother. She was a very blah character. If either Maggie or her father had spent more time talking about her, maybe I would care more. She’s just one example. I could list more.

In fact, I think the biggest disappointment was in the disposal of the male character. It’s becoming rather obvious that when Riley Sager introduces a male character, we shouldn’t get our hopes up for any kind of real investment. I’m not even talking about romance. How about just a true friendship? Or siblings? Or anything that’s more than a plot device?

It’s so bad I can’t even remember the characters name this time. I even went searching in other reviews, and nobody says his name. I found one review that called him “the contractor with the hot bod”. Look, I know we’re all about the woman power these days, but can’t women be powerful alongside male companionship?

That’s my biggest complaint. I would love to see Riley actually tackle a male friendship in a healthy way. The romance reader in me would love it to be romantic, but I’d also love siblings or friendly rivals or anything that depicts our female character in a healthy relationship with a male character.

Please. I’m begging.


About Birdie

Don’t look for her in any bar, club, crazy raging party, or anywhere there may be a large gathering of strangers. She’s more likely to be found tucked into the corner of the couch watching one of her favorite shows, or preferably under a comforter with her current novel.

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