The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

If you’re afraid to fly and/or have a flight coming up, I don’t recommend reading this book anytime around your trip.

The Night Strangers is the story of Chip Linton, an airline pilot from Pennsylvania who flies regional trips. During take-off his plane flies into a flock of geese that take out his engines. He attempts to land his plane in Lake Champlain and things are looking fairly good until a wave from the wake of a boat hits one of the wings causing the plane to jack-knife through the water, killing 39 of the 70 passengers on board. He’s cleared of any wrong doing or lapses in judgement at the subsequent trial, but he is now known as the un-Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who did not successfully land his plane in a body of water and get all passengers out safely.

Chip’s wife Emily decides to move the family away so that Chip can recover from his traumatic experience and PTSD symptoms in peace and quite. They find an old Victorian on a hill in a remote corner of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. They’re embraced by an overly friendly group of herbalists who take great interest in their ten year old twin girls, Hallie and Garnet. Chip focuses on fixing up the house and discovers a door in the basement that has been sealed shut with 39 bolts. What’s behind the door? Why 39 bolts?

Chip becomes obsessed with the door. He hears voices, he sees things . . .  or is it his PTSD? The herbalists in town become obsessed with the twins. Emily becomes more and more concerned about Chip. Overall, The Night Strangers is a good haunted house, ghost, and witch story until the end. Bohjalian does a great job of slowly building and then unfolding this story and even if some of the characters are a little flat, I still enjoyed the reading. The ending was just so disappointing–it’s a cheesy, Hollywood-like ending that seems like a cop-out after all the care he took to create the build-up.

Readers who enjoy literary fiction and some suspense might enjoy this novel, but I’m not so sure that it would be a good fit for those who regularly read horror. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve seen this novel on several best of 2011 lists and it would probably have made it on mine if it weren’t for the ending.

Bohjalian shared the research that he did on plane crashes and how to survive them at the first Books on the Nightstand retreat which you can listen to here. I couldn’t help but think about this talk from May and the details from his novel during my recent regional flight from Chicago to Hartford. I’m not afraid to fly, but some of the information from his talk and images from the novel sure stuck with me. I certainly took more notice of the exists and will keep my fingers crossed that the geese keep away from my plane for many flights to come.

The Night Strangers
Chris Bohjalian
Crown, October 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0-307-39499-6
400 pages
Source: library copy

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