If you just read my review for The Garden of Burning Sand this review is going to feel very different. Honestly, if I read books simultaneously, which is often do, I like for them to feel completely different so they don’t start to blend together in my head. So now let’s shift gears from a somber legal drama to supernatural horror.
“Every house has a story. Ours is a ghost story. It’s also a lie. And now that yet another person has died within these walls, it’s finally time to tell the truth.” – Riley Sager
On the surface, this is a pretty standard ghost story. A young woman, Maggie Holt, inherits a proverbial house of horrors from her father upon his death. Years before when Maggie was five years old, something happened in that house. This something, though she has no memory of it, haunted her from the day of their departure from the house to the present due to the presence of a best-selling book penned by her father. The book recounts a horrifying encounter with supernatural evil that forced her family from the house with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Twenty-five years later she returns to the house under the pretense of preparing the house for sale. In fact, Maggie Holt is in search of answers. She knows the events from her father’s book are a lie, and she knows the house has the power of unearthing the truth her parents kept from her for a quarter of a century. Was it a lie? Or is there, in fact, an unspeakable evil lurking within the house waiting for Maggie to return home so it can claim what it failed to claim so many years before?
From page one, this book is wildly intriguing. It’s told in alternating chapters in two different easily discernible sections. The first is told from Maggie’s perspective in the present. The second section is comprised of chronological chapters from the novel, House of Horrors, that both made Maggie’s family rich and subsequently ruined her life. At first, it feels as if Maggie is a reliable narrator while the book chapters are the opposite. We believe Maggie’s surefire assertion that the events in the book never occurred. And we’re as desperate as Maggie to unearth what could have been so horrible as to cause the family to leave and never come back. Was it some real life horror that she and her parents witnessed and felt they could never again face? Was it merely a publicity stunt to boost sales of the book? If so, why did Maggie’s father beg her from his deathbed to never return to the house because it wasn’t a safe place for her?
As Maggie ventures through her story and unexplained things begin to happen that mirror experiences from the book, Maggie begins to doubt her own assertions. The lines between the past and the present become blurred, fantasy and reality fuse together in a confusing jumble, and readers start to question which narrative is most unreliable. I love this kind of book, the kind that keeps you guessing, formulating theory after theory and still not quite grasping the entire truth until it’s staring you in the face. Each character Maggie meets, as well, seethes with secrets they’ve kept buried from the rest of the world for 25 years. The result is a tangled web of mystery, deception, and confusion.
This novel is fast paced and easy to read, so it’s not a huge time investment. It’s also very enjoyable. And for a suspense/thriller, it did keep me guessing as to certain details, as there were quite a few surprises that came through by the end. I do have one minor quibble, but it’s sort of important. This book has the wrong title! I mean, if your house potentially wants to kill you and the bad things happen at night, why the hell would you want to be home before dark?
I struggle to find a reason, any reason, in which this title makes sense for the book. Perhaps a better title would be “Find a New Home Before Dark?” HA! Alas, at least the book was enjoyable despite the confusing title.
Overall, I enjoyed this very much and will look for more Riley Sager books in the future. What did you think of this? Did it keep you guessing? Do you have any theories for the strange title? Share your comments below.
For the #52books challenge, this one comes in at number 46, the book with a 3 word title.