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Middle of the Night


Middle of the Night

A new novel from Riley Sager is always a must-read. I am happy to report that he keeps his streak going with a spooky, unpredictable and heartfelt new thriller, MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

On July 15, 1994, Ethan Marsh was having his regular Friday night tent sleepover with his best friend and neighbor, Billy Barringer. When Ethan woke up the next morning, Billy was gone, and there was a huge slash across the side of the tent directly next to where Billy was sleeping. Billy was never seen again, and no body was ever found.

Now 40 years old, Ethan is still haunted by what he refers to as “the dream.” It begins with a ripping, tearing sound and from there gets murky. He and Billy were from two of six residential families that lived on Hemlock Circle. The police were always confident that it had to be someone from one of those homes who abducted Billy, but no evidence was ever found. They also had a difficult time believing that Ethan heard and saw nothing.

"Before the final answers are revealed, there will be some nice plot twists that will have readers scratching their heads. I figured out one of them, but at least two others completely blindsided me."

Ethan’s parents have retired and moved to Florida, leaving their son to deal with the place. He is back at Hemlock Circle, and Billy’s family is still there. Russ Chen, one of Ethan’s oldest friends, now lives on the cul-de-sac with his wife and son. His one-time babysitter and old crush, Ashley Wallace, has returned with her son, Henry, to take care of her elderly father. Ragesh Patel, who used to be the neighborhood bully, is now a police detective. There is also the one household that had no children and is still occupied by Fritz and Alice Van de Veer. During his time there, Ethan has some strange feelings about a presence around his property, which is confirmed when the lawn person hands him a baseball he found in the backyard.

This discovery frightens and unsettles Ethan because Billy’s way of getting him to come over and play with him was to toss a baseball over the hedge that separated their two yards. When Ethan decides to phone Ragesh to see if there has been any new updates on the case, he is surprised to learn that the police recently located the remains of a body that appears to be a young person. The corpse was found in the water by the falls that lead to the mysterious Hawthorne Estate, which is in the woods not far from Hemlock Circle. Rumor has it that the eccentric founder, Ezra Hawthorne, is conducting experiments involving the paranormal and trying to speak to the dead.

Ashley’s father tells Ethan that he has seen young Billy running around his yard. Even though he is suffering from dementia, it is still a disturbing claim. So Ethan purchases a motion-activated camera and sets it up in his yard. His cell phone is pinged with a photo every time motion is reported. Some of what he sees is very much out of the ordinary.

Ethan’s trip down memory lane has his mind in a whirl. He can only find sanity by sending messages back to his wife, Claudia, explaining that a body was found that turned out to be Billy. As Ethan begins his own exploration into the residents of Hemlock Circle, as well as the Hawthorne Estate, he makes a number of eye-opening revelations that his 10-year-old self never knew about.

Before the final answers are revealed, there will be some nice plot twists that will have readers scratching their heads. I figured out one of them, but at least two others completely blindsided me. This is what Riley Sager does so well. He sets up circumstances and characters you feel very comfortable with and then puts plenty of doubt in your mind about everyone and everything involved with his well-plotted story. The ending is both satisfying and touching, and I am sure that most readers will walk away from it quite happy.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 21, 2024

Middle of the Night
by Riley Sager