The Night Strangers - Chris Bohjalian
Released October 2011
Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth
I grew up on a steady diet of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Eventually, I progressed to a local horror author Joe Citro. I've read Chris Bohjalian's newspaper column for years and read Midwives years ago, though I'm not sure if I liked how things panned out. I've laughed at some of his stories and been deeply touched by others. Given that, I wasn't sure if he could pull off horror.
The Night Strangers is a story that really hits home, mainly because I live two miles from the lake where the plane crashes. I have National Guard planes regularly flying over my house for training, we see coast guard helicopters from our back yard when they're either performing their job or training and we line up well with Plattsburgh's airport and see those planes fly overhead year round. Just down the road near a golf course in Milton, there are a number of geese who make their summer home in a small pond. They always are in the road, wandering the homeowner's yard or flying in huge numbers after getting spooked. I know the area and know how many Canadian Geese are in the area and that makes the story very personal.
Shortly after take off from Burlington International, Captain Chip Linton finds his plane in serious trouble. He flies into a number of geese destroying the engines. He opts to make a landing on Lake Champlain because it's August, the water is warm and it's the safest option. As long as he keeps the plane level, it will be a perfect landing. Unfortunately, a ferry turns away sharply creating a wave that causes the plane to flip and 39 passengers die.
To start fresh, Chip, his wife Emily and their twin daughters Garnet and Hallie move to an old Victorian in New Hampshire. In the basement, Chip comes across a door that is sealed tightly with exactly 39 bolts. As if this isn't creepy enough, the town has taken an unusually disturbing shine to the twins. These men and women, who call themselves "herbalists," spend as much time as possible with Garnet and Hallie and are always bringing food to the Linton's home. At first, it seems innocent enough but then Chip and Emily begin to wonder if there is something more going on.
The Night Strangers is a ghost story. It's also a mystery with strong paranormal leanings. The setting fascinated me because I knew many of these places. My grandmother lived in Barnet, I have relatives in St. Johnsbury and have been over to the White Mountains in NH many times. Having a familiar setting added to the ambiance. I loved that aspect.
What I didn't love was the naivety of some of the characters. I realize Chip was recovering both mentally and physically from his crash. Emily was trying to hold her family together. The twins being 10 were immature. However, as the "herbalists" continued their creepy ways, and they are creepy, I really wanted to see Emily take action. As a mother, I would have been concerned over the attention to my children way before Emily showed any concern. I struggled a bit with her character because she seemed far too accepting.
I'm really not sure what to make of The Night Strangers. I didn't hate it, but it is not my favorite book either. Yet, I couldn't stop reading it because I had to know how things ended. I do suggest reading the author's Sunday column in the Burlington Free Press though. I think it is among his best work.