Chip and Emily Linton and their twin daughters move to an old Victorian house in New Hampshire, in the hopes of starting their lives anew. Chip, a commercial airline pilot for nearly two decades, had the arduous task of landing his plane in Lake Champlain after experiencing a bird strike, much like Captain Sully Sullenberger did in 2009. But unlike Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson,” most of Chip’s passengers and crew were not so lucky. Thirty-nine people died, and even though Chip was in no way at fault, he’s plagued with guilt and understandably suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
"THE NIGHT STRANGERS is yet another fine example of the width and breadth of this talented writer. From MIDWIVES to THE DOUBLE BIND, to this latest offering, Bohjalian creates an atmosphere worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe story."
Emily realizes that her husband and family need a fresh start, to put down roots in a whole new place: “A world where people were not defined by their successes and failures. A world that was, in some ways, oblivious to the inexorable media --- the twenty-four hour news cycles, the relentless blogs, the wonder walls of gossip and innuendo and supposition on the Web --- that constantly had stories likely to trigger self-hatred and despair in the captain, even though it wasn’t his fault.” So it’s with great hope that the Lintons leave behind their suburban Philadelphia home to put down roots in Bethel, New Hampshire.
Once the relocation is complete, Chip and Emily set about the business of settling in. Garnet and Hallie, their 10-year-old twins, are enrolled in the local grammar school, while Emily passes the state bar and accepts a job at a law firm in nearby Littleton. Chip, still unable to work, plans to start renovating their home and begins the process by doing odd jobs around the rambling old house. In the dark basement, he notices a door nailed shut with 39 carriage bolts (the odd number of bolts and their correspondence to the number of passengers who died in the crash is not lost on Emily or her husband). What is the purpose of this door? It doesn’t connect to any other part of the house, and it isn’t for entry into the backyard. The little pile of coal in front of it leads one to believe that it must be an old coal chute, but Chip is not convinced.
And he’s not the only one. Almost immediately, Hallie starts hearing strange noises. It sounds like people who are drowning, she frantically tells her twin, late one night after being roused from her sleep. And what of Resida Hill and Anise, the odd local women known as “herbalists” and their strange fascination with the Lintons’ daughters? Does true evil lurk in their house, or is it all in their minds?
It’s been said of Chris Bohjalian that he never writes the same book twice. THE NIGHT STRANGERS is yet another fine example of the width and breadth of this talented writer. From MIDWIVES to THE DOUBLE BIND, to this latest offering, Bohjalian creates an atmosphere worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Although parts of the narrative are told in second-person (“You wonder if you will ever work again. You wonder what you could do. All you have ever done professionally is fly airplanes.”) and could be quite tedious, here it works to heighten the spooky ambiance of the story and, in hands as deft as the author’s, just serves to underline the creepiness of the plot. It’s different from his earlier books, but the key similarity is the confidence of the writer and the richness of his characters.
THE NIGHT STRANGERS is a great read for fans of early Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, especially at this time of year.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on October 6, 2011