Home Before Dark is a thriller, so it might not surprise you to learn that Maggie believes her dad made up the ghost stuff, or that he's just died and bequeathed her Baneberry Hall, or that she is about to head to the estatealone, of courseto get it ready to sell. In fact, you might think you know exactly where this story is goingat least, right up to the point where Maggie drives to the house through woods swarming with sinister, spiky-leafed baneberry vines. But it's here, when the novel seems as if it's going to be just another schmaltzy, trope-laden thriller, that Sager pivots and transforms it into something fresh, shot through with shocks of real horror. As he cuts back and forth between chapters of Ewan's book and what is happening to Maggie as she begins the renovation work, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell which one of them is telling the truth about Baneberry Hall.
One of USA Today's Best Books of 2020
“Sager is a master of the twist and the turn. . . . You have to read to the very last page to find how who did what to whom and why.”
In this chilling thriller, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?
Twenty-five years ago, Maggie Holt and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. Three weeks later they fled in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His horror memoir of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father's book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father's death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.
Alternating between Maggie’s uneasy homecoming and chapters from her father’s book, Home Before Dark is the story of a house with long-buried secrets and a woman’s quest to uncover them—even if the truth is far more terrifying than any haunting.
Interior designer Maggie Holt, the heroine of this outstanding supernatural thriller from bestseller Sager (Lock Every Door), is shocked to learn after the death of her father, Ewan, that he has left Baneberry Hall, near Bartleby, Vt., to her. She hadn’t realized that Ewan still owned the spooky mansion that Maggie, Ewan, and her mother moved into 25 years earlier. Maggie’s parents were able to buy the house cheaply, because of a recent tragedy there—the prior owner smothered his six-year-old daughter with a pillow before killing himself. The Holt family had their own traumatic episodes in Baneberry Hall, including Maggie’s visions of a ghostly figure, which led to their fleeing one night. Ewan later wrote a bestselling book about their experiences. Maggie, who still suffers from night terrors, decides to move into Baneberry Hall to get a better understanding of what happened to her and to determine how much of her father’s book was true. Sager, who makes the house a palpable, threatening presence, does a superb job of anticipating and undermining readers’ expectations. Haunted house fans will be in heaven. Agent: Michelle Brower, Aevitas Creative Management. (July)
"What could be better than a haunted house with ghosts aplenty? Home Before Dark is equally superb and terrifying. Buckle up for a wild ride. This book should come with a warning not to be read after dark."
–Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of The Other Mrs.
"Flawless pacing, a dexterous dual narrative, and character through the roof. But the biggest revelation to be found in Home Before Dark is this: There’s nobody writing scarier books than Riley Sager is right now."
–Josh Malerman, New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box and Malorie
"Houses breathe. Some have a heartbeat. None forget. Grabbing you from the first page, Riley Sager crafts a devilish plot, twisted timelines, and horrors that linger in this haunting thriller that needs to be on your reading list!"
–J.D. Barker, International Bestselling Author of She Has A Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be
"Part ghost story, part murder mystery, Home Before Dark is a nightmare ride of haunting terror and suspense. Dripping with atmosphere and danger, Baneberry Hall is the new Hill House. I couldn’t turn the last 100 pages fast enough."
–Richard Chizmar, New York Times bestselling author
“[An] outstanding supernatural thriller. . . . Sager, who makes the house a palpable, threatening presence, does a superb job of anticipating and undermining readers’ expectations. Haunted house fans will be in heaven.”
–Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The ghosts and poltergeist activity Sager conjures are truly chilling, and he does a masterful job of keeping readers guessing until the very end.”
“For fans of the Amityville Horror story comes yet another breath-stealer from the hit machine Sager.”
–Good Housekeeping, “The 35 Best Books to Add to Your Reading List ASAP.”
"Sager does a superb job of upsetting reader expectations in this horror thriller."
–Publishers Weekly, "Summer Reads 2020"
“Another breathtaking hit from Sager, who’s proven himself a master at crafting new twists on classic horror tales.”
Spectral danger and human evil stalk Sager’s latest stalwart heroine.
When Maggie Holt’s father, Ewan, dies, she’s shocked to discover that she has inherited Baneberry Hall. Ewan made his name as a writer—and ruined her life—by writing a supposedly nonfiction account of the terrors their family endured while living in this grand Victorian mansion with a dark history. Determined to find out the truth behind her father’s sensational bestseller, Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall. Horror aficionados will feel quite cozy as they settle into this narrative, and Sager’s fans will recognize a familiar formula. As he has in his previous three novels, the author makes contemporary fiction out of time-honored tropes. Final Girls(2017) remains his most fresh and inventive novel, but his latest is significantly more satisfying than the two novels that followed. Interspersing Maggie’s story with chapters from her father’s book, Sager delivers something like a cross between The Haunting of Hill Houseand The Amityville Horrorwith a tough female protagonist. Ewan and Maggie both behave with the dogged idiocy common among people who buy haunted houses, but doubt about the veracity of Ewan’s book and Maggie’s desperate need to understand her own past make them both compelling characters. The ghosts and poltergeist activity Sager conjures are truly chilling, and he does a masterful job of keeping readers guessing until the very end. As was the case with past novels, though—especially The Last Time I Lied (2018)—Sager sets his story in the present while he seems to be writing about the past. For example, when the Holt family moved into Baneberry Hall in 1995 or thereabouts, Ewan—a professional journalist—worked on a typewriter. When Maggie wants to learn more about the history of Baneberry Hall, she drives to the town library instead of going online. Sager is already asking readers to suspend disbelief, and he makes that more difficult because it’s such a jolt when a character pulls out an iPhone or mentions eBay. This is, however, a minor complaint about what is a generally entertaining work of psychological suspense.
A return to form for this popular author.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
Read an Excerpt
From the moment I enter the office, I know how things are going to go. It's happened before. Too many times to count. And although each incident has its slight variations, the outcome is always the same. I expect nothing less this go-round, especially when the receptionist offers me a knowing smile as recognition flashes in her eyes. It's clear she's well-acquainted with the Book.
My family's greatest blessing.
Also our biggest curse.
"I have an appointment with Arthur Rosenfeld," I say. "The name is Maggie Holt."
"Of course, Miss Holt." The receptionist gives me a quick once-over, comparing and contrasting the little girl she's read about with the woman standing before her in scuffed boots, green cargo pants, and a flannel shirt speckled with sawdust. "Mr. Rosenfeld is on a call right now. He'll be with you in just a minute."
The receptionist-identified as Wendy Davenport by the nameplate on her desk-gestures to a chair by the wall. I sit as she continues to glance my way. I assume she's checking out the scar on my left cheek-a pale slash about an inch long. It's fairly famous, as scars go.
"I read your book," she says, stating the obvious.
I can't help but correct her. "You mean my father's book."
It's a common misconception. Even though my father is credited as the sole author, everyone assumes we all had something to do with it. And while that may be true of my mother, I played absolutely no part in the Book, despite being one of its main characters.
"I loved it," Wendy continues. "When I wasn't scared out of my mind, of course."
She pauses, and I cringe internally, knowing what's about to come next. It always does. Every damn time.
"What was it like?" Wendy leans forward until her ample bosom is squished against the desk. "Living in that house?"
The question that's inevitably asked whenever someone connects me to the Book. By now, I have a stock answer at the ready. I learned early on that one is necessary, and so I always keep it handy, like something carried in my toolbox.
"I don't really remember anything about that time."
The receptionist arches an overplucked brow. "Nothing at all?"
"I was five," I say. "How much do you remember from that age?"
In my experience, this ends the conversation about 50 percent of the time. The merely curious get the hint and move on. The morbidly interested don't give up so easily. I thought Wendy Davenport, with her apple cheeks and Banana Republic outfit, would be the former. Turns out I'm wrong.
"But the experience was so terrifying for your family," she says. "I'd surely remember at least something about it."
There are several ways I can go with this, depending on my mood. If I was at a party, relaxed and generous after a few drinks, I'd probably indulge her and say, "I remember being afraid all the time but not knowing why."
Or, "I suppose it was so scary I blocked it all out."
Or, a perennial favorite, "Some things are too frightening to remember."
But I'm not at a party. Nor am I relaxed and generous. I'm in a lawyer's office about to be handed the estate of my recently dead father. My only choice is to be blunt.
"None of it happened," I tell Wendy. "My father made it all up. And when I say all of it, I mean all of it. Everything in that book is a lie."
Wendy's expression switches from wide-eyed curiosity to something harder and darker. I've disappointed her, even though she should feel grateful I'm being honest with her. It's something my father never felt was necessary.
His version of the truth differed greatly from mine, although he, too, had a stock answer, the script of which never wavered no matter who he was talking to.
"I've lied about a great many things in my life," he would have told Wendy Davenport, oozing charm. "But what happened at Baneberry Hall isn't one of them. Every word of that book is true. I swear to the Great Almighty."
That's in line with the public version of events, which goes something like this: Twenty-five years ago, my family lived in a house named Baneberry Hall, situated just outside the village of Bartleby, Vermont.
We moved in on June 26.
We fled in the dead of night on July 15.
That's how long we lived in that house before we became too terrified to stay a minute longer.
It wasn't safe, my father told police. Something was wrong with Baneberry Hall. Unaccountable things had happened there. Dangerous things.
The house was, he reluctantly admitted, haunted by a malevolent spirit.
We vowed never to return.
This admission-detailed in the official police report-was noticed by a reporter for the local newspaper, a glorified pamphlet known as the Bartleby Gazette. The ensuing article, including plenty of quotes from my father, was soon picked up by the state's wire service and found its way into bigger newspapers in larger towns. Burlington and Essex and Colchester. From there it spread like a pernicious cold, hopping from town to town, city to city, state to state. Roughly two weeks after our retreat, an editor in New York called with an offer to tell our story in book form.
Since we were living in a motel room that smelled of stale smoke and lemon air freshener, my father jumped at the offer. He wrote the book in a month, turning the motel room's tiny bathroom into a makeshift office. One of my earliest memories is of him seated sideways on the toilet, banging away at a typewriter perched atop the bathroom vanity.
The rest is publishing history.
The most popular "real-life" account of the paranormal since The Amityville Horror.
For a time, Baneberry Hall was the most famous house in America. Magazines wrote about it. News shows did reports on it. Tourists gathered outside the estate's wrought-iron gate, angling for a glimpse of rooftop or a glint of sunlight bouncing off the windows. It even made The New Yorker, in a cartoon that ran two months after the Book hit stores. It shows a couple standing with their Realtor outside a dilapidated house. "We love it," the wife says. "But is it haunted enough for a book deal?"
As for me and my family, well, we were everywhere. In People magazine, the three of us looking somber in front of a house we refused to enter. In Time, my father seated in a veil of shadow, giving him a distinctly sinister look. On TV, my parents being either coddled or interrogated, depending on the interviewer.
Right now, anyone can go to YouTube and watch a clip of us being interviewed on 60 Minutes. There we are, a picture-perfect family. My father, shaggy but handsome, sporting the kind of beard that wouldn't come back in style until a decade later. My mother, pretty but looking slightly severe, the tightness at the corners of her mouth hinting that she's not completely on board with the situation. Then there's me. Frilly blue dress. Patent leather shoes. A black headband and very regrettable bangs.
I didn't say much during the interview. I merely nodded or shook my head or acted shy by shrinking close to my mother. I think my only words during the entire segment were "I was scared," even though I can't remember being scared. I can't remember anything about our twenty days at Baneberry Hall. What I do recall is colored by what's in the Book. Instead of memories, I have excerpts. It's like looking at a photograph of a photograph. The framing is off. The colors are dulled. The image is slightly dark.
That's the perfect word to describe our time at Baneberry Hall.
It should come as no surprise that many people doubt my father's story. Yes, there are those like Wendy Davenport who think the Book is real. They believe-or want to believe-that our time at Baneberry Hall unfolded exactly the way my father described it. But thousands more adamantly think it was all a hoax.
I've seen all the websites and Reddit threads debunking the Book. I've read all the theories. Most of them surmise my parents quickly realized they'd bought more house than they could afford and needed an excuse to get out of it. Others suggest they were con artists who purposefully bought a house where something tragic happened in order to exploit it.
The theory I'm even less inclined to believe is that my parents, knowing they had a money pit on their hands, wanted some way to increase the house's value when it came time to sell. Rather than spend a fortune on renovations, they decided to give Baneberry Hall something else-a reputation. It's not that easy. Houses that have been deemed haunted decrease in value, either because prospective buyers are afraid to live there or because they just don't want to deal with the notoriety.
I still don't know the real reason we left so suddenly. My parents refused to tell me. Maybe they really were afraid to stay. Maybe they truly and completely feared for their lives. But I know it wasn't because Baneberry Hall was haunted. The big reason, of course, being that there's no such thing as ghosts.
Sure, plenty of people believe in them, but people will believe anything. That Santa Claus is real. That we didn't land on the moon. That Michael Jackson is alive and well and dealing blackjack in Las Vegas.
I believe science, which has concluded that when we die, we die. Our souls don't stay behind, lingering like stray cats until someone notices us. We don't become shadow versions of ourselves. We don't haunt.
My complete lack of memories about Baneberry Hall is another reason why I think the Book is bullshit. Wendy Davenport was right to assume an experience that terrifying would leave some dark mark on my memory. I think I would have remembered being hauled to the ceiling by an invisible force, as the Book claims. I would have remembered being choked so hard by something that it left handprints on my neck.
I would have remembered Mister Shadow.
That I don't recall any of this means only one thing-none of it happened.
Yet the Book has followed me for most of my life. I have always been the freaky girl who once lived in a haunted house. In grade school, I was an outcast and therefore had to be avoided at all costs. In high school, I was still an outcast, only by then it was somehow cool, which made me the most reluctantly popular girl in my class. Then came college, when I thought things would change, as if being away from my parents would somehow extricate me from the Book. Instead, I was treated as a curiosity. Not shunned, exactly, but either befriended warily or studied from afar.
Dating sucked. Most boys wouldn't come near me. The majority of those who did were House of Horrors fanboys more interested in Baneberry Hall than in me. If a potential boyfriend showed an ounce of excitement about meeting my father, I knew the score.
Now I treat any potential friend or lover with a hearty dose of skepticism. After one too many sleepovers spent having a Ouija board thrust at me or "dates" that ended at a cemetery with me being asked if I saw any ghosts among the graves, I can't help but doubt people's intentions. The majority of my friends have been around for ages. For the most part, they pretend the Book doesn't exist. And if a few of them are curious about my family's time in Baneberry Hall, they know enough not to ask me about it.
All these years later, my reputation still precedes me, even though I don't think of myself as famous. I'm notorious. I get emails from strangers calling my dad a liar or saying they'll pray for me or seeking ways to get rid of the ghost they're certain is trapped in their cellar. Occasionally I'll be contacted by a paranormal podcast or one of those ghost-hunter shows, asking for an interview. A horror convention recently invited me to do a meet-and-greet alongside one of the kids from the Amityville house. I declined. I hope the Amityville kid did as well.
Now here I am, tucked into a squeaky chair in a Beacon Hill law office, still reeling from emotional whiplash weeks after my father's death. My current mood is one part prickliness (Thanks, Wendy Davenport.) and two parts grief. Across the desk, an estate attorney details the many ways in which my father continued to profit off the Book. Sales had continued at an agreeably modest pace, with an annual spike in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Hollywood had continued to call on a semiregular basis, most recently with an option that my father never bothered to tell me about to turn it into a TV series.
"Your father was very smart with his money," Arthur Rosenfeld says.
His use of the past tense brings a kick of sadness. It's another reminder that my father is truly gone and not just on an extended trip somewhere. Grief is tricky like that. It can lay low for hours, long enough for magical thinking to take hold. Then, when you're good and vulnerable, it will leap out at you like a fun-house skeleton, and all the pain you thought was gone comes roaring back. Yesterday, it was hearing my father's favorite band on the radio. Today, it's being told that, as my father's sole beneficiary, I'll be receiving roughly four hundred thousand dollars.
The amount isn't a surprise. My father told me this in the weeks preceding his death. An awkward but necessary conversation, made more uncomfortable by the fact that my mother chose not to seek a share of profits from the Book when they got divorced. My father begged her to change her mind, saying she deserved half of everything. My mother disagreed.
"I don't want any part of it," she would snap during one of their many arguments about the matter. "I never did, from the very beginning."
So I get it all. The money. The rights to the Book. The infamy. Like my mother, I wonder if I'd be better off with none of it.
"Then there's the matter of the house," Arthur Rosenfeld says.
"What house? My father had an apartment."
"Baneberry Hall, of course."
Surprise jolts my body. The chair I'm in squeaks.
"My father owned Baneberry Hall?"
"He did," the lawyer says.
"He bought it again? When?"
Arthur places his hand on his desk, his fingers steepled. "As far as I know, he never sold it."