The Night Visitors
I picked up The Night Visitors, the latest offering from author Carol Goodman, expecting to get lost in a twisty thriller. I’ve enjoyed several of Ms. Goodman’s previous works, so I had no reason to think this one would be any different. Unfortunately though, this particular story did not work for me.
Alice is a woman on the run, determined to do whatever she needs to in order to keep herself and ten-year-old Oren out of the hands of the dangerous man who wants to see them both dead. To this end, she arrives in Delphi, a small town in upstate New York, in the middle of a snowstorm. She’s counting on the bad weather to slow her pursuers down, and at the moment we first meet her, wants nothing more than to find a warm place for her and the Oren to sleep. She intends to seek refuge at a local shelter for battered women, but when she meets Mattie, the middle-aged social worker tasked with bringing her to the shelter, she begins to wonder if the shelter is really the best place for her and Oren to hide out.
Mattie has devoted her life to rescuing women and children in trouble. She’s been associated with the local women’s shelter for the past several years, so she’s no stranger to meeting late night buses and spiriting frightened passengers away to safety. But when she first lays eyes on ten-year-old Oren and the woman she assumes to be his mother, she feels a spark of recognition she can’t quite explain. Something about the boy reminds her of the brother she lost in a tragic accident more than thirty years ago. Is it possible that Alice and Oren have come bearing a message from beyond the grave?
Against her better judgement, Mattie invites Alice and Oren to stay at her house for the night. True, she could drop them off at the shelter the way she’s supposed to, but she is strangely drawn to Oren and is desperate to spend more time in his company. Alice is initially suspicious of Mattie’s invitation, but eventually decides to take her up on her offer in order to keep herself and Oren out of the shelter. At first, I thought this was an odd decision for her to make, but as the story goes on, the reasons behind Alice’s acceptance become more clear.
The next morning, Alice awakens to find that she and Oren are unable to leave Mattie’s large, run-down home due to the extreme amount of snow that has fallen overnight. The roads are closed, and Mattie tells her it’s possible they’ll be snowed in for a few days. Part of Alice is dismayed by the news, but another part of her is comforted by the belief that her pursuers will be completely unaware of her location. As you might imagine, things don’t go as planned, and Alice, Oren, and Mattie soon find themselves in unspeakable danger.
If the story had continued on in this particular vein, I would have absolutely loved it. I mean, what could be better than reading about strangers trapped in a creepy old house during a blizzard? Unfortunately for me, Ms. Goodman took the novel in a direction I was absolutely not expecting, and I quickly lost interest in the plight of these characters.
What I’m about to say could count as a spoiler, so read on with caution!
If there’s one thing that’s sure to ruin a book for me, it’s the introduction of a supernatural element where such a thing is not necessary. If I start reading a thriller only to learn that a ghost is the villain, I’m likely to roll my eyes in disgust. That isn’t exactly the case here, but the explanation for certain key events would have been much more palatable had they not been attributed to the paranormal. This gave the novel a sloppy feel, almost as if the author couldn’t come up with a believable way to make certain things happen without introducing it into the mix. Of course, this may not be a huge problem for most readers, but it’s a personal pet peeve of mine that I simply cannot get past.
Ms. Goodman’s writing is just as lush and evocative as I’ve come to expect, and she does throw in a few great twists, making The Night Visitors a book I’m hesitant to dismiss out of hand. It definitely has a compelling premise, and both Alice and Mattie are strong, likable heroines. If books involving ghosts aren’t problematic for you, I’m guessing you’ll enjoy this story, but if you, like me, would rather not encounter ghostly apparitions in your thrillers, you’ll want to give this one a pass.