Pilot Chip Linton is plagued by the guilt he feels after an unsuccessful water landing claimed the lives of 39 of his passengers and crew. He and his wife Emily and their 10-year-old twin daughters decide to start over and move to a rambling old Victorian house in a small town in New Hampshire. But Chip, suffering from PTSD, phantom pains, and depression, does not find rest and respite in their new home. He quickly becomes obsessed with a strange door in the basement—a door bolted shut with exactly 39 heavy-duty carriage bolts. When Chip’s phantom pains increase, he begins to understand that what he’s feeling are the fatal injuries sustained by three crash victims—a young woman, and a father and daughter. The three begin appearing to Chip and the dead father attempts to convince Chip to kill his own daughters to provide playmates for the dead girl. Meanwhile, Emily is being befriended by a group of women in the town, all of whom are named for plants, all of whom have greenhouses filled with strange and exotic herbs and flowers, and all of whom have a very unusual and sinister interest in the Linton twins.
The Night Strangers is slow-starting, with a gradual and inexorable build-up to the truly creepy ending. However, many readers may wish Bohjalian had focused more on either the ghost story or the herbalists’s plot, the two stories being so unrelated outside of their cast that at times it feels one is reading two different books at once.