Published Date: October 4, 2011
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