Crown Publishers, 2011; 380 pages
After a horrific plane crash in which most of the passengers as well as his co-pilot are killed, airline pilot Chip Linton is devastated and in need of both physical and emotional healing. He's been cleared of any wrong-doing or neglect, but he's haunted by survivor's guilt and the possibility that if he'd acted differently or faster, more lives might have been saved. Worried about her husband and anxious to help the family return to some degree of normality, wife Emily Linton decides the best plan would be to move the family to a new town where they can get away from the disturbing memories, and get a fresh start. So the run-down but lovely Victorian house in a quiet town in northern New Hampshire seems the perfect choice.
Chip and Emily decide to buy the place and make a new home for themselves and their twin daughters Hallie and Garnet. They're so enchanted with their new surroundings that they're really not too alarmed when the real estate agent who helped them find the house dies suddenly on the day they're scheduled to close. And once they move in, life seems to be smoothing out again -- until Chip notices the mysterious door in the basement. Why didn't they notice it when they were looking at the house the first time around? What's behind the door, and why does it seem to lead nowhere? And why is it tightly sealed with thirty-nine 6-inch-long carriage bolts? Is it just a coincidence that thirty-nine is the exact number of people killed in the plane crash? Does the sealed door have anything to do with the tragic death of a member of the family who lived in the house before the Lintons arrived?
While Chip becomes obsessed with finding the answers to these questions and deals with all the other questions haunting him (some, quite literally), Emily is starting to wonder about the women she's met in the village. Calling themselves "herbalists," they seem completely caught up in their horticultural pursuits. Emily is sure the ladies are simply harmless hobbyists. But why do they seem so fascinated by the Lintons' twin daughters?
Lots of questions to be answered. Including the one I kept asking: "why don't they just pack up and move back to the city? "
I'd heard so much about this one: it sounded right down my street -- a haunted basement, spooky twins, shamans, witches, a town with a secret from the past. Now how could I resist something like that? Obviously I couldn't -- and when I found the book at the library, I had to bring it home. And managed to read the whole thing in one day; pretty unusual for me, especially since Bohjalian's novel is almost 400 pages long.
So I have to admit, it's definitely a page-turner. But the story itself left me a little cold (and not from terror). Maybe I've just read too many of these creepy tales, but this one seemed a little too derivative -- many other books kept coming to mind including Rosemary's Baby, Burnt Offerings and The Amityville Horror, as well as bits of Stephen King. And I had a lot of trouble believing that two intelligent people could be as gullible and unaware as Chip and Emily seem to be -- even if they are suffering from trauma and depression. Can't say much more or I'd give too much away -- it was all just a bit too predictable for my taste.
But, as I said, I did enjoy the writing. Overall, the book is pleasingly atmospheric, and at times genuinely spooky. So I don't think I'll let this one turn me off Chris Bohjalian. Several of his other works sound very interesting, too.