Reviewed by Julie Failla Earhart
If you love a good ghost story, you need to get a copy of Chris Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers. Riveting and dramatic, this novel, set in contemporary times, is the scariest book I’ve read since Stephen King’s Christine was published in 1983.
Chip Linton is a former airline pilot. He had a successful career until Flight 1611 ran into a flock of birds near Lake Champlain. Thinking he could pull off another “Miracle on the Hudson” and become the next Sully Sullenberger, he almost succeeded in landing the plane. Unfortunately, a wave from a ferry hurrying to help clips the plane’s wing and sends his plane somersaulting across the lake, causing the death of thirty-nine passengers and crew. Chip is left with PTSD.
His wife, Emily, is desperate to give her family a new start. She moves her husband and their twin ten-year-old daughters to northern New Hampshire. The rambling Victorian and the welcoming community of White Mountain convince Emily that she has done the right thing.
Their home is wonderful, affording them the space they never had in Boston. On a trip to the basement, Chip becomes obsessed with a door that is bolted shut. With thirty-nine bolts. Coincidence? Chip isn’t so sure and spends an entire day removing one of the bolts, a six-inch carriage bolt.
Emily is worried about her husband’s new obsession, but she has a new concern. All of the women in the sparsely populated area take an increasing interest in the twins. The women are self-proclaimed herbalists and rumors fly that there is much more than a love of herbs involved.
Then Chip begins to have contact with three of his dead passengers.
What has Emily gotten her family into?
Bohjalian is a master of creating characters that readers can relate to and care about. The clues and suspense are released slowly, heightening the tensions as readers flip the pages. There were times I found myself gasping and goosebumps snaking up my arms and spine. Bohjalian dovetails the intricate plot lines seamlessly. To quote The Passage’s author Justin Cronin, “But it’s also a challenge to summarize because The Night Strangers is so many novels at once, as all good novels must be. It’s a psychological thriller. It’s a domestic drama, the story of a family coping with the aftermath of dislocation and disaster. It’s a book about a specifically American locale, in this case a small town in a remote corner of New Hampshire. It’s a classic New England ghost story, and a hell of a good one.”