Book Review: How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Berkley (January 17, 2022)
Length: 400 pages
Grady Hendrix has made a name for himself for writing horror novels that are slightly bizarre, a little off kilter. As he never shies away from the strange and unexpected, each of his books also tend to possess a unique gimmick or hook, as well as the quintessential ingredient of a thread of dark humor. His latest How to Sell a Haunted House is all of this and more, which is sure to delight his readers and win him new fans.
As the book opens, we are introduced to Louise Joyner, a 39-year-old single mom who has always prided herself on being hardworking, independent, and resourceful. But one night, her entire world unravels with a phone call from her younger brother Mark who informs her that both their parents had just died from a car accident. Filled with shock and grief, Louise reluctantly leaves her 5-year-old daughter Poppy behind with relatives in San Francisco in order to travel cross-country back to her childhood home in South Carolina. There’s much to be done, including helping Mark with the funeral preparations and deciding how to sell their parents’ old house.
But when she arrives, Louise is furious to find that Mark has already set in motion his own plans, many of them against the wishes of herself, other family members, and even those set forth in their parents Eric and Nancy’s will. An epic fight between brother and sister ensues, escalating when it turns out that Mark has been bequeathed almost the entirety of their parents’ estate. Mark, the spoiled and entitled baby of the family, who has always had the world handed to him because he was so helpless, while Louise is the responsible one who has had to work for everything she ever wanted! And now, all she’s left with is Nancy’s substantial “art collection” which spans decades of her mother’s creations, including her vast hoard of handmade dolls and puppets. None of it was fair, and Louise was not about to stand for any of it.
However, while feuding about what to do with the house, both Louise and Mark start noticing something off about the place, and it’s not just the weird sounds coming from the attic. The house is giving off a malicious energy, or so claims their eccentric cousin Mercy who believes it is haunted. And while Louise is tempted to dismiss this as utter nonsense, she also can’t deny that strange things keep happening, and somehow, a part of her just knows it has something to do with her mom’s puppets.
So, anyway, I hate dolls. I can’t stand their frozen blank faces and glassy eyes that just give me the creeps. When I was younger, I couldn’t sleep after the first time I watched the movie Child’s Play and to this day I will not abide any dolls in my house and my daughters understand that they’ll just have to make do without American Girl or Our Generation in their lives.
But now, puppets. In some ways, they’re worse. As anyone who’s ever seen a Punch and Judy style show can probably tell you, they are the stuff of nightmares. For the puppets in this book, my assumption was that most would have been from Louise’s mother’s time with the Christian Puppet Ministry and be no less disturbing with that hair-raising muppet look to them. Dial that creepiness up to eleven and that’s certainly how I pictured Pupkin, the favorite of all of Nancy Joyner’s puppets but who is also the source of so much vexation and sheer terror for our poor protagonist Louise. I’m not going to spoil anything, but suffice to say, if you carry as much antipathy for dolls and puppets as I do, you’ll have a jolly good scary time with this book.
But what I loved most about How to Sell a Haunted House is that it’s not just horror-filled fun and games. I enjoyed the deeper layers of story which offers commentary on the darker side of familial relations. If you think your family is dysfunctional, just wait until you meet Mark and Louise! And yet, while the Joyners’ situation might be a bit extreme, it’s also easy to see how certain aspects of their sibling rivalry can be relatable.
This book also reads so much like a movie, complete with a third act that brings everything together while going full-bore into horror thriller territory. Just when you think things can’t get any crazier, whoops, there’s more!
In sum, How to Sell a Haunted House is very much the horror novel you’d expect in a lot of ways, but also a little more substantial than just shocking violence and cheap frights (though you’ll get plenty of that as well). Once more Grady Hendrix delivered an insanely entertaining novel, and I had a lot of fun reading it.