Title: The Night Strangers
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Genre: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 3 out of 5
Chip Linton used to be a commercial airline pilot; that is, until one fateful day when a bird flew into the engine of the small plane he was flying. He tried his best to make a water landing, to save his crew and passengers, but in the end, thirty-nine people died. Now, Chip, his wife Emily, and their twin daughters are trying to start over in a new town. But the house they bought has its own mysteries, specifically, a door in the basement sealed with thirty-nine carriage bolts. As Chip becomes obsessed with what lies behind this door, he begins to see the ghosts of those he was unable to save.
The Night Strangers is in some ways an old-fashioned ghost story. Chip Linton is haunted by his failure as a pilot. Though no one truly blames him – he did the best he could in an impossible situation – he cannot help but feel an enormous amount of guilt for the crash and its aftermath. As a result, Chip is already psychologically tormented when the novel begins. It’s a natural leap, then, to turn this book into a ghost story, but what Bohjalian excels at is keeping the reader guessing. It’s easy to assume that the ghosts are in Chip’s head, but if they are, why can his daughters hear them as well? And how do these ghosts relate to the strange happenings in their New Hampshire town?
The ghost story is, by far, the best aspect of The Night Strangers. Bohjalian does an excellent job creating an intensely sinister atmosphere. Just the description of the door in the basement is enough to send shivers down the reader’s spine. Chip Linton’s psychological state ties into this eerie nature very well. From this angle, the novel is a mix of a psychologically charged thriller and a ghost story, which makes it seem incredibly promising.
However, there were parts of The Night Strangers that just didn’t work. The secondary storyline (which becomes the primary plot as the novel progresses) involves a group of female herbalists that the rest of the town believes to be witches. They ingratiate themselves with the Lintons, and their influence over the frustratingly weak Emily increases steadily over the course of the book. It’s clear from the beginning that their motives are anything but pure, but the story didn’t work for me. I found it hard to take them seriously, especially as “villains”. It’s as if there were two entirely different novels fighting for supremacy in this book, and the one that seemed to win just didn’t engage me.
Additionally, the pace of the novel is incredibly slow. This is subjective, of course; I’ve spoken with some people for which the book flew by. But for me, this book took a frustrating amount of time to read. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t really into one of the major storylines, but I cannot describe how slowly this book creeped by.
I’ve enjoyed some of Bohjalian’s other novels, such as Secrets of Eden, so I know I am a fan of his work. Despite the fact that The Night Strangers didn’t work for me, I’ll definitely be picking up his next book. What’s more, even if I hadn’t read anything else by him, Bohjalian’s sense of humor when I was discussing my dissatisfaction with The Night Strangers on Twitter would have been enough to convince me to read more of his work. This book wasn’t for me, but I know plenty of people who loved it, so if it still sounds interesting to you, I’d definitely give it a chance.