Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Crown
Published Date: October 4, 2011
ISBN: 978-0307394996
Pages: 400
Genre: Mystery; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?

The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.

The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

My Thoughts: I don't often purchase newly published contemporary fiction but the past few months many enticing books have come out that have been receiving wonderful reviews in the book blogging community and elsewhere. The Night Strangers is one such book. I have been reading and enjoying Chris Bohjalian's books for years. I haven't read all of his books yet but I have read many of them and I've never been disappointed. So when I read about The Night Strangers I couldn't resist buying it and I'm very happy I did.

The action and suspense in this novel begins almost as soon as you start reading. Mr. Bohjalian doesn't ease his readers into this story but begins with a bang as we read about a harrowing plane crash had by pilot, Chip Linton. It's the stuff of nightmares even for those of us simply reading about it.  Anyone even vaguely familiar with current events and fascinating 'happenings' of the last few years will recognize the plane crash in The Night Strangers opening scenes.  Chip Linton's crash isn't the same as the one in the news a few years ago but Mr. Bohjalian does a terrific job paying homage to the heroic pilot of that crash while making Chip Linton's his own. This nightmarish tragedy changes not just Chip's life but the lives of his entire family forever.

Chip and Emily decide to move their family, pre-teen, twin daughters Hallie and Garnet, to the small town of Bethel, New Hampshire. Moving from an urban area to suburbia is always a big change, requiring adjustments and the time to get used to a different way of life. That's an understatement in the Linton's case. The family not only has Chip's crash and its impact on him as well as on their lives to cope with, but, within a short time of moving into the 3-floor Victorian house they bought, the Linton's lives seem to go from bad to worse as strange things begin happening around them. They also discover some unsettling facts about the family that owned and lived in the house before them. And Chip finds a small door in the basement bolted closed with 39 bolts, the same number as passengers who died in the plane crash.

Unbeknownst to the Linton family, they've moved to a town populated by a large group of women who call themselves 'herbalists'. Residents of the town who aren't part of the 'herbalists' cadre think the women are more like witches...but few residents of the town will talk about the herbalists to anyone. Half the town seems petrified of these women and convinced harm will come to them and their families if they say a bad word against the 'herbalists'. These herbalists seem quite taken with the Linton family. Many of the women stop by unannounced, frequently, bringing baked goods and dinners, particularly Anise who seems to be the leader of the group. Little by little, these women and some others infiltrate every aspect of the Linton's lives before they know it.

Meanwhile, Chip Linton seems to be losing his mind. Nightmares, hallucinations or something more sinister is going on with him and within him. As the story progresses, it seems as if there are two Chips because he behaves so differently one minute to the next. Some of the herbalists are very interested in Chip just as some are focused on the twins. Could these women be manipulating Chip, causing his breakdown. But why would they want to do this?

Bohjalian does a masterful job of giving us hints about what's happening in Bethel to the Linton family by providing glimpses here and there of conversations between the herbalists regarding things they've done in the past and why they are so interested in the Linton family. It's not difficult to figure out these women are up to something but whether good or bad is not easy to determine nor is their motivation. When I finally understood what was happening in the book I gasped out loud.

This is an unnerving, creepy story with many of the hallmarks of good ghost stories. In addition to the various points of view, Bohjalian's writing gives us vivid descriptions and creates an atmosphere that's tense, suspenseful and creepy. I read this book late into the night reluctant to put it down but I also wanted to be sure I didn't rush through it. The ending really took me by surprise, too. I lost count of how many times I reread it and several pages prior to it. I'm still not quite sure what I think about it...but I love that Bohjalian took me by surprise so much!

The only issue I had with The Night Strangers was Emily Linton's willingness to allow these women she barely knew into her family's life as if they were old and trusted friends. She even allowed them to care for the twins every day after school. But I also question how I feel because I think these women 'herbalists' (witches!?!) may very well have been manipulating the thoughts and behavior of all of the Linton's. When they weren't wining and dining the family, they were filling their refrigerator with all kinds of food so....

I highly recommend you read this book! You won't be disappointed, especially if you enjoy creepy, suspenseful stories.

Chris Bohjalian's website and blog, Idyll Banter


  1. I am glad you enjoyed this one too. It is the perfect book to review on Halloween!

  2. I had the same issue, plus I didn't care for where the story ended up going but it was a page turner for sure!

  3. The only one of Bohjalian's books I've read is Skeletons at the Feast and I loved it. This book sounds so different from that one. He must be very talented.

  4. I am going to get the chance to read this one soon, and am rather excited about it! It is really different than anything else he has done, but I have heard it's deliciously creepy and wonderful and that it keeps you guessing. I am glad to hear that this was mostly a great read for you. I will have to remember your issues with it when I do get to it, and get back to you with my thoughts. Great review today!

  5. The only Bohjalian novel I've read was Skeleton's at the Feast and I was very impressed. It was an unusual topic, or let's say, one that hasn't been chosen all that often.
    This sounds very different but alos very intriguing.

  6. ReviewsByLola: It was definitely a creepy story. It's also a lot d than different Bohjalian's other books. The ending still perplexes me & freaks me out a bit!

  7. Ti: I feel like a lot of the story was insinuated and never fully explaines or made clear. And the ending disappointed me and surprised me but I'm also think it's pretty interesting that Bohjalian ended the book the way he did. Yes, it was definitly a page turner!

  8. Sweet Virginia Breeze: It sure is! It has the creepy atmosphere, the ghosts and spirits, the 'witches'... It's difficult to put down after a certain point in the story!

  9. Bermudaonion: I haven't read Skeletons at the Feast yet but it's on my shelf. I think you're right that Bohjalian is very talented. He likes to construct stories around social issues or circumstances, events. I always feel like in addition to enjoying a great story, I learn about something I knew little about before his book. The Night Strangers does follow this usal 'format' to the extent of some of his other books but there's still some interesting things going on in this book!

  10. Zibilee; I'm thrilled you're going to read this book soon! It's very good and totally creepy! Boy does he keep you guessing...I kept changing my mind about what was going on, who was involved... I cannot wait to know what you think about the book! There are a few specific points I'd love to get your thoughts on, too.
    Happy Reading!

  11. Caroline: That's what it is! Bohjalian often writes his book around interesting topics that aren't often written about, as you said, at least at the time his book comes out. Thia book isn't quite the same idea but it's an extremely good ghost-type story. And Bohjalian touches and explores a little bit on an interesting subject. It's an absorbing book and a page-turner!

  12. I haven't read anything by this author yet, but I know a couple of his books are on my shelf at home. Thanks for the review!

  13. Great review, as always! Glad to see you enjoyed it and found it creepy. I will definitely keep it in mind.

  14. I enjoyed this one, a departure for Bohjalian. I had the same issue with how trusting this family was in relation to these new strange women. Excellent review Amy.

  15. So many good reviews of this one have been going around. I really need to get around to reading it. Wonderful review. You've made me want to pick it up now instead of later.