As a reader or viewer I expect and even enjoy the predictability of a formula in certain genres – romance immediately comes to mind of course. And I likewise seek out twisted and shocking unpredictability in my suspense thrillers (essentially a formula of its own with a goal of being unpredictable). With a mystery I want to be whipped about, teased with red herrings, and for the solution to fall into place at just the right moment in both the narrative and my realization. My bookmarked links are peppered with Buzzfeed listicles riffing on “Shocking Thrillers We Couldn’t Put Down.” A backlog for a beach vacation or long car ride when easy distraction is key. So it came as a surprise to me that I found Home Before Dark, which isn’t particularly shocking or thrilling and fairly predictable and formulaic, somehow comforting as my first read of the year.
Home Before Dark applies Sager’s formula of blending a well-established horror premise (isolated cabin slasher murders, cult conspiracy in a historic NYC apartment building) with a heroine struggling to reconcile with her past. In this case, it is a famous haunting a la Amityville that generated a mega-hit tell all for the young parents and estrangement and confusion for their now-adult daughter. Of course, circumstances bring the heroine back to her notorious childhood home where she unravels the truth about those events and herself through a series of fairly telegraphed and predictable developments and discoveries.
So where did the comfort come from? Maybe after the emotional toll of 2020 (that is certainly bleeding over into 2021) a predictable mystery without any edges or true terror was a great way to wade into this Cannonball Read challenge (I’m a first timer). Where Gillian Flynn or Lucy Foley can be shockingly dark in their descriptions of both relationships and violence (and I’ve loved to gobble up their novels), this felt safe. I was certain with each new chapter that I wouldn’t face being truly disturbed. I read not to be surprised, but to affirm my own predictions about the ending. I think I’m okay with that this time around.