The Night Strangers
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Broadway Books
Format: Audiobook (14 hours, 7 minutes)
After both engines fail, Chip Linton, the pilot of flight 1611, has to ditch his aircraft into Lake Champlain. Chip survives, but almost everyone on board - 39 people in total - are killed. In the aftermath, Chip and his wife, Emily, decide to relocate to the small town of Bethel, New Hampshire, with their ten-year-old twin daughters, Hailey and Garnet.
Once in Bethel, Chip makes a discovery in the basement of his old Victorian house. In the corner there is a very old door, and it is sealed with 39 carriage bolts - the same number of people lost on flight 1611.
Meanwhile, the town seems to be home to an eccentric group of women who call themselves the herbalists. At first, they appear to be helpful and neighborly, but they begin to take an increasingly disturbing interest in the twins, Hailey and Garnet.
Are these women motivated by something darker than meets the eye? Is Chip losing his grip on reality? Is this family safe in Bethel?
I've been listening to this book off and on since the fall. I've been in an incredible reading slump, but I feel the pendulum beginning to swing in the opposite direction.
Even though it took me forever to get through, I really thought this book was fantastic.
There are really two main storylines happening here.
We have Chip battling his personal demons. The discovery of that bolted basement door really sends him down a dark path, both in his thoughts and his actions. Bohjalian does a nice job keeping the reader questioning if there is something supernatural happening or if Chip is losing his mind. This house the Linton family buys in NH hits all the checkmarks of a haunted house - they find all manner of strange things inside when they move in, there is tragedy and rumor about the previous family who lived there, there are weird corridors and stairways, odd wallpaper, electricity that tends to flicker out, and of course the creepy-ass door in the basement. The setting leans towards something supernatural being at play, but the reader gets to be inside Chip's head and it makes you question his stability.
The second storyline centers around Emily, Hailey, Garnet, and the herbalists. There's something "off" about these women right from the start. Their horticultural interests aren't about growing rosemary, thyme, and things you'd use to season a pot of soup, but rather in elixirs, tinctures, and exotic plants. They are a closed group and become very interested in Hailey and Garnet once they learn that they are twins. There was never any doubt, right from their introduction, that things would begin to take a dark turn.
Chris Bohjalian does a great job of immersing the reader both in the physical spaces in and around Bethel, and in the mental spaces of the characters. He uses small details that stick with the reader - I can close my eyes and picture the sunflower wallpaper in the Linton house as being both bizarre and somewhat menacing. I can see the greenhouses of the herbalists. And I can see that bolted basement door. The story is told from multiple perspectives, so we get to spend time within the heads of many different characters, even those outside of the Linton family.
My only complaint wasn't about the book itself, but about the narrator of my audiobook. There was a man reading Chip's narration, and a woman doing the remaining characters. She used a "little girl" voice when reading from Hailey or Garnet's point of view - I found this rather annoying, but I understand what she was trying to do. A small complaint, and one specific to the audiobook version.
This book was a delight to have in my ears while driving and doing things around the house. It was scary enough to keep me guessing and thinking about the story when I was away from it, but not scary enough to keep me awake at night. The descriptions were wonderful, and I know I'll be thinking about the herbalists, their greenhouses, and the Linton house for quite some time.
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