Book: The Spite House
Author: Johnny Compton
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: “Eric Ross is on the run from a mysterious past with his two daughters in tow. When he comes across a strange ad for the Masson House in Degener, Texas, Eric thinks they may have finally caught a lucky break. The “most haunted place in Texas” needs a caretaker. 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.
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.”
The Spite House is Johnny Compton’s first novel and does a heck of a lot of work to lay the foundation for further moving novels in the future. While this book may not lend itself to sequels, the heart of the book gives me great hope for future works by Compton. Though the synopsis refers to this work as being about the “depths of a father’s love”, I think this book does so much more than that – I’m not sure it’s the theme I would point out for a review. This book is about the spite that drives and fuels us; the privilege and rage that keep us embittered and sour; the fear that turns each day into a waking nightmare of our own creation; perhaps this book is even about generational trauma that, when left unattended, may slowly poison an entire town. Yes, a father’s love knows no bounds, and Eric Ross, our protagonist, shows us just how far a father will go to protect his children and find answers, but it is not the theme of this book.
I’m finding myself having a hard time reviewing this book without writing what keeps turning into a book report. Due to the sheer strangeness of The Spite House, it’s a little hard to review without getting into the details of what happened. Eric Ross is a protagonist with a secret: when he was a child, he experienced the energetic imprint of a fire that had burned down most of his grandparents house long before he was born. The townspeople grew to have a healthy fear of his grandfather, a man they believed died in the fire and was reborn out of spite. As a Black man in a small southern town, Eric’s grandfather Fred, a man who had a tendency to say the wrong thing around the wrong people, found himself ticking off his neighbors. In the middle of the night, after making the wrong people mad, Fred’s house was burned to the ground by a group of white men from the neighboring town. After passing out in the burning house, Fred awoke to find himself safe, unharmed, and free of the house. The neighbors, rightfully so, began to fear that Fred possessed a paranormal ability to survive. In the years that followed the fire, every single one of the men who set fire to his house all met untimely deaths that could not be connected to Fred. Compton doles out little bits of Eric’s secret throughout the book, unraveling it in the best possible way. Not only do we not know that Eric’s secret runs much deeper than this, we don’t find out the totality of what that secret entails until nearly the end.
I found Spite House to be a compelling read, keeping me guessing through the entirety. It wasn’t predictable, it didn’t pander to the reader, and while it was technically a thriller, it didn’t keep me awake at night either. Compton has mastered the art of suspense with this book, weaving a tale that spans multiple generations, intertwining them with each other in ways that you don’t see coming. In my mind, this book was a clear success. My greatest criticism comes from the layout of the actual spite house that the tale centers around. I’d never heard of a spite house prior to this book, and upon a quick google search found that most spite houses share a similar style: tall, thin, and imposing. Built to be a visual representation of the spite someone feels toward their neighbors, spite houses are often built tall enough that they may actually block out the sun from the neighboring properties. I found myself wishing on multiple occasions that there was a drawn map showing the layout of the spite house in this book as I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the exact specifications. There’s an addition to this spite house on the second floor that comes in the form of a small hallway that I was never quite clear on. Where does it run between? I’m not sure.
For logistical reasons, The Spite House has earned 4 stars rather than 5, but for a first novel I found it excellent! I want to also note that in several advanced reader copies I’ve received, it’s turned out that there have been maps and other small additions missing that were included in the final copy, so it is possible this book will be published with some additional information regarding the layout of the house.
Advice: If you like a good mystery, a ghost story, or a slow burning suspenseful thriller, this is the perfect book for you! This book would likely not be a good fit for you if you are easily frightened, disinterested in ghosts, or have anxiety that makes suspenseful novels hard to read.