Review: The Spite House – Johnny Compton
by Johnny Compton
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication Date: February 7, 2023
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Eric Ross is on the run from a mysterious past with his two daughters in tow. Having left his wife, his house, his whole life behind in Maryland, he’s desperate for money–it’s not easy to find safe work when you can’t provide references, you can’t stay in one place for long, and you’re paranoid that your past is creeping back up on you.
When he comes across the strange ad for the Masson House in Degener, Texas, Eric thinks they may have finally caught a lucky break. The Masson property, notorious for being one of the most haunted places in Texas, needs a caretaker of sorts. The owner is looking for proof of paranormal activity. All they need to do is stay in the house and keep a detailed record of everything that happens there. Provided the house’s horrors don’t drive them all mad, like the caretakers before them.
The job calls to Eric, not just because there’s a huge payout if they can make it through, but because he wants to explore the secrets of the spite house. If it is indeed haunted, maybe it’ll help him understand the uncanny power that clings to his family, driving them from town to town, making them afraid to stop running. A terrifying Gothic thriller about grief and death and the depths of a father’s love, Johnny Compton’s The Spite House is a stunning debut by a horror master in the making.
I’m a sucker for a haunted house story, and with a delightfully creepy cover like that, how could I resist this book?
Eric is on the run with his daughters Dess and Stacy. Moving from town to town, accepting jobs that pay in cash, Eric’s looking for somewhere safe to take his kids. When he sees a posting for a job promising a large amount of money for staying in a supposedly haunted house? Well, it almost seems too good to be true. But the rich, eccentric old lady who owns it seems serious enough and that money – just for keeping notes on his experiences! – would set his family up for quite some time. But from the moment they step foot in the Masson house – the spite house – things start going wrong and Eric begins to question whether they should ever have come to this town – or if they’ll ever leave.
From the beginning, we know that Eric and his family are hiding something. Eric is the picture of a loving father even if he does make desperate choices in order to keep his daughters safe. Stacy is a sweet child who loves crafts and coloring. Dess, her eighteen-year-old sister, was my favorite though. She veered between being frustrated by their situation and protective of Stacy. The question of why the three were on the run added a good amount of tension to the first half of the story, the feeling that something was very wrong but being unable to put a finger on exactly what. The spite house itself is an excellent character as well. Tall and spindly, with weirdly broken up rooms and a strange corridor addition, the house is eerie even without being haunted.
The beginning was excellent, and the suspense of what exactly would make a man so desperate to move his daughters into a purportedly haunted house kept me on the edge of my seat. But towards the halfway point, as more is explained about the house, the plot began losing momentum. Part of it was that there were too many characters and POVs. There’s Eric and his family, of course, plus Eunice (the house’s owner), her employees Dana and Lafonda, and Millie, another townsperson. I’m not entirely sure all of them were necessary. My main interest was on Des and the rest of her family and I think the pacing would have felt tighter if it focused more on them. In particular, there’s some interesting parallels between Eric’s history and that of the house’s original owner that I would’ve liked to have seen explored more. The book picks up speed again as it nears the end, and I thought the ending was fantastic, but I wished it had maintained that same pacing throughout.
Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. While I found the plot and pacing uneven, there’s enough promise that I’ll definitely be checking out this author’s next work.
Content notes: View Spoiler »death (including death of children), racism (including references to lynching), drowning, PTSD, arson « Hide Spoiler