I chose Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian as my Halloween week book, and it more than fulfilled my expectations of a spooky, suspenseful read! This novel contains both supernatural and real-life scary elements, combining a ghost story and a psychological thriller.
Chip and Emily Linton move their family from Philadelphia to rural New Hampshire in an attempt to start over after Chip, an airline pilot, survives a horrifying plane crash on Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike his hero Sully Sullenberger, though, Chip is left to live with the deaths of 39 of his passengers. With their twin 10-year old girls, Chip and Emily hope to make a fresh start in New Hampshire and begin by buying an old Victorian house on a hill near a small town.
While Emily begins working with a new, much smaller law practice in a nearby town, Chip spends much of his time working on the old house and trying to recover from PTSD. He discovers a strange door down in the dirt-floored basement, sealed shut with 39 6-inch long carriage bolts. Yes, exactly 39. The coincidence is not lost on Chip, and he becomes a bit obsessed with the mysterious door and questions of who would lock it so completely…and why.
The town welcomes the family warmly, especially the twins, but Emily has some concerns about the close-knit group of women who call themselves herbalists and seem so interested in their girls. She is also worried about her husband, who seems to be getting worse instead of better. Is he losing his grip on reality? Is he dangerous?
From that auspicious – and suspicious – start, Bohjalian builds the suspense. This novel is completely unlike any of his others that I have read. It is a true ghost story but also a thriller. I found myself shouting at the pages, like you do (well, like I do) with a taut horror movie; in fact, the classic, “No, don’t go in the basement!” worked quite well in this case. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, especially during Halloween week, though I ended up staying up much too late most nights and having disturbing dreams!