Jcarojames’ Spoiler-Free Review of The Spite House by Johnny Compton
Horror is a new-ish genre for me. Normally I’m neck-deep in fantasy or sci-fi, but lately I’ve been struggling to find something that really pulls me in. I grabbed THE SPITE HOUSE on a whim a few minutes before a 5-hour cross-country flight, and all I can say is THANK YOU, SPITE HOUSE, for breaking my reading slump! I utterly devoured it.
This book is the definition of “un-put-downable”.
THE SPITE HOUSE subverted my expectations in every way. I went in with the assumption that it would be a classic haunted house story with a fugitive-style mystery b-plot (à la HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, which it’s compared to in the blurb). But what we really get from Compton’s debut is a deeply emotional examination of class, race, legacy, healing, and the impact of generational trauma.
THE SPITE HOUSE leaned on one of my favourite tropes: We All Know This House Is Haunted, But Please Ghosts, I’m Just Trying To Do My Job. The opening POV, Eric Ross, is doing his best as a father on the run with his two daughters (from what? You’ll have to wait ‘til more than three-quarters of the way through to find out). We know from the blurb that Eric winds up taking a ‘caretaker’ job for the ominous, enigmatic Masson House (aka the spite house) – a home built specifically to annoy and threaten someone else (did you know this is a real thing and there are several example of ‘spite houses’ around the world?) What I did not expect from this story is that Eric and his daughters know the house is haunted when they move in. They need the money, and Eric essentially states ‘what’s the worst that could happen’. Paranormal events begin within moments of them entering the house, but that’s not at all what this book is about.
THE SPITE HOUSE has a range of POV characters, all of whom are nicely fleshed out (seemingly every character that is mentioned ultimately hosts a chapter). I also found the GET OUT vibes from the Houghton family and the American Civil War backdrop compelling and unique.
Do I think/wish this book could’ve been spookier? Definitely. But in the end, sheer terror wasn’t the point and my desire to know what ANYONE’S true motivations were had me hooked. (The reliance on horror tropes like disembodied child’s laughter was a bit forced, but why not). The use of characters’ withholding information from each other (and the reader) as a plot device was frustrating, and I had issues with the 7-year-old’s POV voice (children are not just tiny adults). However, those are personal preferences and shouldn’t take away from what THE SPITE HOUSE does well. My favourite characters were easily Dess and Lafonda, and the Texas Hill Country was a perfect serenely creepy setting.
Give THE SPITE HOUSE a read if you want a fast-paced, unconventional haunted house story with a large, diverse cast, and lots of twists and turns.