I’m off my “classics kick” for a spell (pun intended). I considered reading some H.P. Lovecraft, to give myself a fright, but I decided to go with something more contemporary. I settled on Chris Bohjalain’s The Night Strangers. This is not your traditional ghost story. Yes, there are ghosts, and, yes, there is a creepy old Victorian home, but this is much more.
Meet Chip. He is an airline pilot. His wife, Emily, is an attorney. They have two beautiful twin ten-year-old girls. They live happily in Pennsylvania. Chip is a good pilot; he loves flying, and he couldn’t imagine any other career.
Then the unthinkable happens, the thing that we all fear when we board an airplane. The plane crashes into Lake Champlain. The crash is horrific with most of the passengers dead and only a few survivors. Chip is among the survivors. The crash isn’t his fault, and he is legally found blameless, though the horror of the crash haunts him.
Bohjalain’s description of the crash is nail-bitingly suspenseful. He puts you first in the pilot’s chair and then switches you back into the cabin with the passengers. You know the flight is doomed, but you can’t help hoping that Chip will save the flight.
In a bid to start over, the family, almost on a whim, purchase a large century old Victorian home in a remote corner of New Hampshire. The old house has charm, and the nearby village is quaint. This is just the sort of place where Chip and his family can start fresh.
But then there is the basement. Large, dark, and with a dirt floor, there is something about this space that attracts Chip. It pulls at him. He finds a door, sealed shut with bolts. Why bolt a door shut? What could be behind that door?
The longer the family lives in their new home, the more uncomfortable the family seems to become with their accommodations. The house is large and filled with dark corners. There is no cell phone service, and they experience frequent blackouts. It doesn’t help that they are nearly a mile away from their closest neighbor. But maybe you’re thinking that the quaint village will redeem the poor choice in real estate.
Yes, a lovely town with such nice people, especially the women. They like the new family. They take an interest in the young twin girls. Maybe the new friends are a little odd with all their obsessive gardening. Maybe they are a little off-putting with their constant attention. Maybe some of the family members get the feeling that there is something else going on here. Secrets, perhaps? What do these new overly friendly people want, really? Why are they so interested in tinctures and salves and herbal remedies? Some people in town call them herbalists. Others, more quietly, call them witches.
Bohjalain takes you to this remote New England community and creates a strong sense of place. For readers who have never been that far north, this book really captures some of the great gothic elements which were pioneered by early New England writers of ghost stories. Think, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Scarlet Letter.
Caution: This novel is not to be read late at night in an empty house.