“Home Before Dark” and why the “The Sound of Music” is ruined forever.

I read a lot of good books last year: “The Starless Sea,” “One by One,” “Eight Perfect Murders,” and more. But, of all the books I read in 2020, one stood out as my favorite read of the year. I won’t say it was the most literary, or most poignant, book I read last year, but it was the exactly right book.

Do you know what I mean? Have you ever had a time when you were reading a book that was exactly the book you wanted to read? It doesn’t happen that often. It’s more than simply reading a mystery when you’re wanting a mystery, or needing a compassionate, easy to believe character, and finding one, or even finding a trope you love, like an isolated setting with small cast with a murderer among them. It’s happened only a handful of times before: “The Madwoman Upstairs,” “Alice, I Have Been,” and “Blood Memory.”

It happened to me last year, in the midst of the pandemic. Everything was a giant dumpster fire and I wanted something to distract me from the fear and uncertainty around me. I yearned for a different kind of fear and uncertainty: a haunted house. But I wanted more than a traditional haunted house; I needed a character who I could resonate with, a story with something more to offer.

Riley Sager’s “Home Before Dark” ticked every box for me: a haunted house with a history of violence, a daughter desperate to understand her parent’s lies, and the slow burn as the house becomes active and the main character is confronted with doubt.

“Every house has a story. Ours is a ghost story. It’s also a lie.”

Maggie Holt was 5 years old when her parents bought Baneberry Hall, the site of a murder/suicide of the previous owner and his daughter. Three weeks later, the Holt family fled in the middle of the night, claiming the house was haunted and never returned. Ewan, Maggie’s dad, wrote a best-selling book about the experience, “House of Horrors.” Maggie loathes the book and believes it’s all an elaborate lie to make money. She remembers nothing from her short time at Baneberry Hall, no ghosts, no weirdness, nothing. In the years since, her parents still won’t talk about it with her.

“People don’t lie unless they’re hiding something.” “Few things are more disappointing than knowing your parents aren’t being honest with you.”

Twenty-five years later, Maggie mourns the death of her father and discovers that not only did her dad not sell Baneberry Hall, he left it to her. Against her mother’s wishes, Maggie is determined to find out the truth behind Baneberry Hall, and moves in under the guise of renovating it to sell.

Almost as soon as Maggie moves in, things begin to happen: a chandelier turns itself on and off, music from a long forgotten record player blares in the middle of the night, objects disappear and reappear somewhere else. The same things that occurred to the Holt family all those years ago, according to “House of Horrors.” (I can no longer hear “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” without feeling the creeps! Sorry Julie Andrews but now “The Sound of Music” is a horror story.)

Maggie rereads the book while she stays in the house and she begins to remember the ghosts who haunted her: Miss Pennyface, Mister Shadow, and the little girl.

“Unease slams onto my shoulders, so forceful that Baneberry Hall seems to shake.”

From murderers to snakes, and from spooks to creepy paintings, this book has it all. If you loved “Haunting of Hill House,” you’ll love this book. Yes, there are some surface similarities, but the resemblances stop there. The character of Maggie Holt, really drives the story. She’s so conflicted with proving her parents are liars while simultaneously blaming the house for their divorce, all while grieving her father and discovering the secrets he kept from her.

“Grief is tricky like that. It can lie low for hours, long enough for magical thinking to take hold. Then when you’re good and vulnerable, it will leap out at you like a fun-house skeleton, and all the pain you thought was gone comes roaring back.”

In the end, I made a pie for this book. Once you read it, you’ll understand why I chose to make a pie, of course for obvious reason’s I made a very different kind of pie, a peach custard pie.

Pies are not my strong suit. Personally when giving the choice of pie or cake, I always choose cake. I’ve always liked the piecrust over the filling and the ratio of crust to filing is off for me. Because I don’t make pies often, my piecrust game is quite lacking. I don’t know how people keep their crusts from falling back into the filling. Mine are always shriveled up no matter what technique I try.

So I picked up a book at the library called “Pie Academy” with the intention of bettering my pie game, instead I picked a recipe that called for crumb crust. EVEN BETTER!  Plus it came with a crumble topping! Total score for me, and my crust to filling ratio.  Don’t let the length of the recipe stop you; this was an easy bake, and a delicious bake.

Peach Custard Pie


Simple Press-In Pie Dough:

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup plus 3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes


¾ cup sugar

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup full-fat sour cream

⅓ cup heavy cream

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ½ cups peeled and sliced ripe peaches

Traditional German Streusel:

1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour

½ packed light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes


Simple Press – In Pie Dough:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Scatter the butter on a large flour-dusted plate. Refrigerate everything for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Transfer the dry mixture to a food processor. Pulse several times to mix. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients. Pulse 6 or 7 times until the pieces of butter are roughly the size of small peas. Remove the lid and sprinkle all the water evenly over the mixture. Replace the lid. Continue to pulse the machine as many times as necessary until the mixture has the consistency of coarse sand. It won’t feel damp, but if you carefully reach in and pick up some of the mixture, it should hold together when you press it between your fingers. If it doesn’t, pulse it a few more times instead of adding more water. The mixture should remain crumbly and not start to form clumps.
  3. Transfer all the crumbs to the pan and spread them evenly before you begin to press. Spread them heavily near the sides, so there are plenty of crumbs for the sides of the pans as well.
  4. When the crumbs are evenly spread, start pressing them into the bottom and the sides of the pan; the dough should come to the top of the pan. Refrigerate for at least an hour before using.

Peach Custard Pie:

  1. Prepare pie dough and press into a 9 – 9 ½ inch pie pan. Refrigerate until needed.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment.
  3. Whisk sugar, flour, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the sour cream, heavy cream, egg yolks, and vanilla. Whisk again until evenly blended.
  4. Arrange the sliced peaches in a single layer in the pie shell. Slowly pour the custard over them. Using a fork, gently nudge the peaches this way and that so that custard surrounds them. Put the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for 10 minutes longer.
  5. Remove pie from the oven and set it on the prepared baking sheet. Cover the filling with a thick layer of streusel; you probably won’t need all of it. Tamp lightly to compress the streusel.
  6. Continue to bake the pie, on the sheet, on the middle oven rack for 25 to 30 minutes longer, until the filling is wobbly and shows no signs of soupiness in the middle. When the pie is done, turn off the oven, slide out the rack, and leave the pie in the oven for about 10 minutes with the door halfway open.
  7. Transfer the pie to a rack and cool for at least 2 hours. Serve at room temperature, or if desired cold. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.

Traditional German Streusel:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Toss with your hands to mix. Add the butter and toss it to coat as well.
  2. Using your fingers, thoroughly rub the butter and dry ingredients together until all the butter is incorporated and the topping is evenly mixed. You don’t have to rush, but don’t dilly-dally because it’s best if the butter stays cold. When you’re done, the mixture will be fine textured and feel a bit like dry sand.
  3. Put the bowl in the fridge, or first transfer the topping to a shallow casserole dish or pie pan, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. Leftover topping can be stored in plastic freezer bags and frozen for up to a year.

Published by Aprile

An passionate reader, amateur baker, aspiring writer, and professional cat lady.

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