Audiobook Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (June 30, 2020)
Length: 11 hrs and 4 mins
Narrators: Cady McClain, Jon Lindstrom
I love a good haunted house book, and it’s been a while since I read one. That said, I might have hyped myself up a bit too much for Home Before Dark, because I did not find it as scary as others have said it to be. Still, it did its job and scratched a long-neglected itch.
Told via dual timelines, this novel is the story of the Holt family. Twenty-five years ago, Ewan and his wife Jess and their young daughter Maggie moved into Baneberry Hall, an old mansion nestled in the Vermont woods. A struggling writer, Ewan had always dreamed of living in a place like this, though money was always an issue. Baneberry Hall, however, was surprisingly affordable—and of course, there’s a good reason for that. The house has a dark past, filled with memories of grief, pain and death. Yet for Ewan, who possesses a fascination for the extraordinary, the estate’s macabre history simply made it that much more appealing.
But in the end, the Holts barely even made it three weeks in their new home before they fled terrified into the night, vowing never to step foot in the house again. Not long after that, a local reporter catches wind of the bizarre police report filed about the incident, sparking national interest in the Holts’ story, leading Ewan to write a tell-all account of what really happened at Baneberry Hall. The resulting book, called House of Horrors, became an instant hit, placing the family in the world’s spotlight.
For Maggie, who was only a little girl when it all happened, there was never a time she could remember not having that damn book define her life. Growing up, it felt like she was either shunned for being a freak or smothered with attention from morbid fans who are hungry for more details. Joke’s on them, though—for Maggie has no recollection of her time at Baneberry Hall. In fact, she thinks her dad made it all up. Why else would he refuse to ever talk about his book with her? And now, having lost his long battle with illness, he will never get the chance. At yet, Maggie’s not about to give up her search for answers, and following the shock and confusion of finding the deed to Baneberry Hall still under her late father’s name, she decides that the only way forward is to return to the place where it all started.
As you’ve probably guessed by this point, one of the timelines—the present one—is told through the now adult Maggie’s eyes, while the other is the book House of Horrors itself, written by Ewan Holt. These two threads are intertwined though alternating chapters, which on its own is already a brilliant concept, but what’s even more impressive is how well it was handled. Although twenty-five years separate the narratives, the transitions between them were executed in a way that allowed them to build upon each other. Needless to say, for the story to flow seamlessly and coherently, the timing had to be dead on, and kudos to the author for nailing it.
That said though, while I think the writing is superb, it did feel like there was something missing. Sager clearly knows horror, as he’s certainly got all his haunted house tropes down, drawing obvious inspiration from The Haunting of Hill House, The Amityville Horror, The Shining, and other genre classics. Still, it’s possible that this overreliance on the familiar drew his attention away from other areas, like atmosphere building. The story’s pacing could have something to do with this; simply put, I loved that we moved through the plot at breakneck speed, but sometimes we moved so fast that there wasn’t even enough time for any atmosphere to build. Plus, there’s only so many times you can reuse the same old tricks before they lose their effect—things like unexplainable bumps in the night, shadows at the corner of your eye, etc. (Although if you have a fear of snakes, be prepared for a pretty rough time overall.)
Of course, your mileage may vary, seeing as I don’t scare easily. But what’s not in doubt is how much fun I had in spite of that. While Home Before Dark might be the first book I’ve ever read by Riley Sager, I promise it won’t be the last. Several of his previous novels were already on my to-read list, and after this I’ll certainly be making it my priority to get to them, and you can also bet I won’t wait to check out whatever he does next.
Audiobook Comments: The Home Before Dark audiobook was narrated by Cady McClain and Jon Lindstrom, who both performed their respective parts really well. I did feel like there were some missed opportunities though, such as sound effects or singing (I guarantee you will never look at The Sound of Music the same way again), which might have helped the audiobook feel even more immersive.