Home invasion stories in the horror genre work because home is where we feel like we are safe. We have to, or else we wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Home, with those we love and care about, is a bastion from the dangers of the world, a sanctuary against the hustle and bustle of outside and where we feel confident we can help and protect one another.
So taking that and tossing it on its head is always an effective method to provide scares, even if it's a common trope.
Michaelbrent Collings has, by my count, nearly covered every single horror situation by this point, minus maybe the "creepy dark haired Japanese girl" one. From foggy towns to haunted houses, insane parents to vicious fairies and vampires, to ghosts and demons and now home invasions, he's got all his bases covered. But that's a good thing, because even if the premise is something familiar, Michaelbrent does an excellent job in all his novels of taking a tried-and-true horror concept and making it his own. And Strangers is no exception.
Were I to elevator pitch the novel, it would be "The Strangers" meets "Saw." A family, innocent on the outside but harboring deep dark secrets on the inside, is trapped inside their home as an unknown assailant wrecks havoc on them. Anything else would be potential spoilers, just know that the secrets the harbor are dark, and lead to horrific consequences. While the underlying "goal" of the main villain might be predictable, there are still plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep you gripping the novel, including a rather large double (and then triple) twist at the end that felt perfect for this type of horror novel.
The pacing is, as usual, phenomenal. Once you get into the "meat and potatoes" of the book, Michaelbrent has his metaphorical hooks in you, and it's hard to quit before its over. I've always seen that a sign of an excellent writer if he can keep me gripped to my kindle all the way to the end, ignoring dishes, chores, or even sleep because I "have to know what happens next." Strangers accomplishes this, and in spaces, with one minor exception: the beginning. While the prologue chapter is a ghastly scene that does well in setting up the nightmare to come, there is a lot of idle time spent before the monster actually appears. That and the final portions of the novel do seem to drag a little (this is a long horror book), but if you persevere through the slow start the novel is absolutely worth it.
I made a comment in my review of Darkbound that the gore escalation in Michaelbrent's novels is a bit off putting, and I'm pleased to say that Strangers doesn't fall in the same trap. While there are several grotesque and graphic scenes, most are done in a way that they're actually scary rather than just desensitizing, with most of the horror in the book delightfully gore-free. I think Michaelbrent found the balance between Rising Fears and Darkbound, which makes this an appealing book for those who like both psychological and gore-scares.
Strangers is a great spin on the home invasion novel. While nothing is particularly novel in and of itself, the book is absolutely gripping, the horror and tension real, and the ending twists loads of scary fun. If you're looking for a fast-paced read for that dark evening at home, you couldn't do much better. Just be sure to lock the windows and doors before you do (but honestly...it won't help!).
Four out of five stars.