Updated: Feb 5
The Spite House Explore Life, Death, and the Moments in Between
THE SPITE HOUSE
by Johnny Compton
"...what harm could a ghost do?"
The Spite House by Johnny Compton is a GOTHIC horror novel, think Jane Eyre or The Haunting of Hill House. If you're in search of a The Exorcist-type scare, this isn't the book for you.
Eric Ross is on the run, but from what we do not know. He and his girls picked up and left Maryland and have been on the move ever since. Dez, the eldest daughter, had to grow up quickly once they left their home, and Stacy, the younger of the two, just misses her mom. With Eric's work having to be under the table, his financial situation hasn't been great. Unfortunately, neither is their living situation, moving from seedy motel to seedy motel, so he's looking for his next job before the money dries up.
That's when the opportunity of a lifetime falls into his lap: get paid to live in a house. All Eric has to do is record activity at the dwelling. But there's a catch; there always is. Eunice, the owner of the Masson House, is looking for answers to the mystery of her ancestors and proof of the paranormal. While it is well known to the town of Degener, Texas, that this house was built out of spite, it is also built on secrets. The Masson House might also hold the answers to Eric's own paranormal past. It seems like a win all around, but things are rarely what they seem.
This debut novel by Compton was almost perfect. NetGalley and MacMillan Audio were kind enough to supply me with an advanced listener copy. The narration by Adam Lazarre-White was flawless. He used his voice to unnerve, keeping the reader on edge. (There was something about the voice he did for Fred that sent chills down my spine). The book itself is atmospheric and eerie, somewhere between a ghost story and philosophy, that asks the age-old question: what happens when we die?
I like to joke that this novel was a Black History Month miracle, as I received approval for it on the first of February. If you've read my other blog post, you know I try to keep this month all Black, but with the way ARCs work, that isn't always possible. The first few words of the narrator prompted me to look up the author, and low and behold, he was Black. And it became abundantly clear within the first few minutes of listening that his protagonist was also.
As a lover of Gothic horror, it is a genre generally dominated by whiteness. So it was refreshing to see Black characters, often overlooked in horror, at the forefront of this story.
And while I generally like this genre to be more psychological and less paranormal, The Spite House works because it commits to the paranormal from the very beginning. Eric isn't a skeptic; he knows there are things that go bump in the night. Instead, it comes from a more philosophical terror, dealing with existentialism and relativism. The kind of story becomes scarier the more you think about it.
The rotating POV allows the reader to stay firmly grounded in the present while also peeling back layers of history to reveal how this building came to be haunted in the first place. This gives us just enough information to be curious about what happened without feeling like an encyclopedic reading.
If anything, The Spite House's main downfall was being too ambitious. For me, there were still too many unanswered questions at the end. I wish the book had been given more time to breathe, explore, and tie up some loose ends more satisfactorily. It needed to be more fleshed out. We needed some more meat on those old bones. As a result, the book fell a little short of its potential. It was almost there. Almost. But not quite.
Overall, The Spite House is an excellent book for people looking to add some diversity to their TBR. Compton's writing style is compelling, and his prose is engrossing. He's a tremendously talented writer, and I look forward to his future works.