Chris Bohjalian is never predictable. He's written novels about midwifery ("Midwives" was a selection of the Oprah Book Club), a woman who falls in love with a male transsexual ("Trans-Sister Radio") and homeopathy ("The Law of Similars").
They all share a compelling style that lassos you in to what may seem the most esoteric of subjects. His latest, "The Night Strangers," also pulls you in. But it is also very different in that he's now carving out space in Stephen King territory.
Chip Linton is at the controls of a jet that flies into a flock of birds and goes down in Lake Champlain. Although Linton does everything correctly, an errant wave tips the plane over.
Thirty-nine of the 48 people aboard die, and the captain's life, obviously, is changed forever. His lawyer wife, Emily, and their 10-year-old twins decide they need to start over. So they leave Pennsylvania for the small town of Bethel, N.H.
But things do not get better. The ghost of several drowned passengers haunts him, particularly Ashley, a young girl, and her dad. They are stuck in purgatory and alone. Linton believes he's responsible, and that Ashley deserves company, and he's prepared to kill his own daughters to provide it.
He's crazy, of course -- or is he? The denouement is not only unexpected but is also perfect and true to the story. Bohjalian is a terrific writer and parsimonious in the way he issues information, slowly building an increasing sense of dread and excitement.