In The Night Strangers, Bohjalian builds an alternative view of history into a painful litany of might-have-beens
when a fatal plane disaster morphs into a creepy tale of gothic suspense, culminating in an ever-more bizarre scenario where a group of witches are out for blood, determined to right past mistakes. The storyís turbulence is clear as the author churns out a believable - if sometimes overwrought - horror story.
The tale rests on a collision
with a flock of geese. The bird-strike causes pilot Chip Linton to ditch his regional CRJ jet into Vermont's Lake Champlain. Events, however, donít exactly transpire like they did on the Hudson River on that cold, crystal-clear January afternoon on January 15, 2009, when Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed his jetliner, saving the lives of all 155 people on the aircraft.
For Chip Linton, the wake of the ferryboats on the crystalline surface the of
lake portends something far more tragic. Chip's mouth fills with bitter lake water, and he barely escapes as the two halves of his plane disappear beneath the dark waters while bodies of people in short-sleeved sport shirts and summer-weight business jackets are left floating upon the surface. Although 39 people die, Chip
is not deemed responsible. He hadnít made any mistakes, but unlike Sullenberger, he failed to ditch a commercial jet on the water.
Itís left up to Chipís wife, Emily, to pick up the pieces, to find a house that offers both relative seclusion and vistas that might feed her husbandís battered soul. Along with her two children, fifth-grade fraternal twins Hallie and Garnet,
Emily finds the idea of returning to New England from their home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to start fresh somewhere new after the
captainís sudden retirement from flying attractive, to say the least.
The family settle in Bethel, New Hampshire, buying a three-story Victorian with gingerbread trim, even
though something about the house makes the hairs on Chip neck prickle with fear, desire, and expectation. The local state agent Reseda and her friend Anise, with their offers of freshly baked cookies and their greenhouses filled with exotic herbs, embrace the family as Chip discovers a strange door with 39 carriage bolts, partially hidden by a moldering pile of coal.
Fixating on the day-to-day logistics of anchoring her family, Emily learns of the history of Sawyer Dunmore, a twelve-year-old boy rumored to have
killed himself in the house. In a world where people are not defined by their success or failures, Sawyerís story seems to re-trigger Chipís self-hatred and despair. Tormented by his own private demons, Chip uses an ax left behind by Sawyerís twin brother, Hewitt Dunmore, to break through the door.
In a series of over-the-top occurrences, Chip and Emily move through a weird world of ghosts and paranoia. Dead fathers watch helplessly as their dead daughters pine for playmates, their hair dripping with jet fuel. In a house brimming with strangeness and surprises, violent deaths shake the story with bloody terror. Hallie and Garnet develop a macabre fascination with bones, and herbalists John and Clary Hardin seem so strange in their obsession with their greenhouses and gardens and quaint little remedies.
Bohjalian has a talent for suspense, his spine-tingling chills reminiscent of Henry James'
The Turn of the Screw and Stephen King. You can just see the movie rights optioned, the author clapping his hands in glee as we wonder who will live and who will die, each deathly page crackling with an indecipherable sense of macabre, ghoulish horror.