• gwen

Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

TW/CW: death & suicide

Synopsis: 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.

Thoughts: This is my 4th Riley Sager book and it ranks right under my favorite The Last Time I Lied, his sophomore novel. I did an author spotlight highlighting all of Sager's books if you're interested in hearing about the other three books. While this one is technically my second favorite of his, it still doesn't quite have the impact I was expecting. Don't get me wrong the writing was superb and the atmosphere was good, could have been spooky, but it was good. I like that the house itself became a character much like the apartment did in Lock Every Door. I enjoyed the alternating chapters of Ewan's book and Maggie's time in the house. Something else I picked up on was the clever repetition of certain events that started slowly feeding into the idea of unease. Although I thought the ending ended abruptly it was still classic Sager which I appreciated so much.

I wanted to highlight a few things that didn't work for me and they might be spoilery so reader BEWARE!


For starters, the over description in the house tour chapter was unreal. I really wanted to start skimming because literally EVERY SINGLE thing was described. So much so that I literally thought I was touring the house. Since some of these descriptions also came up later they could have been left out. This also made the beginning of the story really slow and for a thriller I like to be hooked right away.

Secondly, I was really hoping to be spooked. I wanted haunted house vibes and I truly thought this was a weak attempt at that. I was more scared reading The Last Time I Lied. Maybe because ghosts aren't real, or I haven't seen any, so they don't scare me. Plus the things that I think Sager was trying to make spooky just weren't. Record players playing the same song every night, chandeliers turning themselves on? Something isn't adding up.

Lastly, and probably my biggest gripe is the armoire. This is a huge part of the plot because it's where young Maggie says Mister Shadow & Miss Pennyface go. Ewan, Maggie's father repeatedly checks the armoire to satisfy Maggie's terrors ensuring her there's nothing to be scared of, but something is amiss and he misses it entirely. Not only that, but in another earlier part of the story when Maggie arrives at the house for the first time in 20-ish years she comments how her dresses from when she was a child are still hanging in the armoire. That means at some point in time her parents or another adult supposedly put Maggie's dresses there AND they didn't notice anything odd? So yeah that whole armoire bit just doesn't add up to me.

Ignoring the few flaws I mentioned I still really enjoyed the story and plan to continue supporting Sager in his future endeavors.

Rating: ★★★★