Book Review: The Spite House by Johnny Compton

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Spite House by Johnny Compton

Mogsy’s Review: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Nightfire (February 7, 2023)

Length: 272 pages

Author Information: Website

So, the title and the cover and the description of this book was a bit deceiving. I went into The Spite House thinking I was reading a horror novel, but quite honestly there was nothing too scary about it. What it can rightfully claim to be though, is a southern gothic novel dripping with atmosphere, spiced up with a dash of the paranormal.

The story opens with an introduction to single father Eric Ross, who is on the run with his two daughters Dess and Stacy. Originally from Maryland, he has made his way to Degener, Texas, where dwindling resources have forced him to lie low and find work. A black man new in town with no work history or anyone to vouch for him, Eric is faced with limited options. He ends up answering an ad in the newspaper for a caretaker post at a property called Masson House, not knowing its history. As it turns out, it is an oddly constructed spite house, built for the sole purpose of antagonizing neighbors or anyone with stake in the land. Standing on a hilltop overlooking an abandoned orphanage, it is also said to be haunted.

In fact, Eric’s new employer is hoping he could help keep an eye out for any paranormal activity while he is staying at the house and is paying him handsomely to do it. Certainly the money would go a long way in solving his problems, providing a future for him and his girls, but is it worth it? The longer he stays at Masson House, the more Eric feels like it is taking a toll on his sanity. The place is practically drowning in negative energy, and as he learns more about the house’s history and what happened to its past owners, Eric begins to fear for the safety of his family.

For all the talk of ghosts and hauntings, I thought The Spite House was startlingly sparse in the chills department. Still, what the story lacked in horror it more than made up for with its tantalizing mystery. The questions hit you almost right away, with the most burning ones being: Why is Eric on the run, and what is he running from? Author Johnny Compton keeps the answers quite close to vest for most of the novel, not revealing them until quite far into the book, but when he does, wow, what a doozy!

Eric himself is a compelling and deeply sympathetic protagonist. He clearly cares a lot about his daughters and is fiercely protective of them. From the occasional chapters we get from the girls’ perspectives, it was also clear they were a close-knit family, better to keep secrets among themselves. Amidst the uncertainty and fear in this chaos of emotion, there is also love and a heartwarming connection while they are staying in this strange house.

Speaking of which, before now I had never heard of the term spite house, and only thought it made a cool sounding title for a book. Turns out they are pretty common and you can find spite houses all over the country, pretty much anywhere you have super passive-aggressive individuals with neighbors they want to annoy. Some of them, as I later found out while doing further reading, have even become tourist attractions because of how odd they look. Of course, the Masson House in The Spite House has its own harrowing story behind why it was built, taking readers on a wild journey through some dark history and memories.

In truth, I started The Spite House expecting a more traditional haunted house story and was only sightly disappointed when that turned out not to be the case, mainly because of the complexity of its other elements. The atmosphere was a mix of both modern and southern gothic, and its mystery kept me hooked through the whole book. I also liked Eric Ross as a character, and rooted for him to get to the bottom of whatever was wrong with Masson House, even if it took him down some dangerous paths.

In sum, how you feel about this book will depend on your expectations. Diehard horror fans will likely not find the thrills and frights they seek here, but if you enjoy a good twist on a ghostly tale, especially one infused with mysterious vibes, you’ll want to pick up this impressive debut.

21 Comments on “Book Review: The Spite House by Johnny Compton”

    • Some spite houses I looked up are very elaborate, yes, but I’ve also seen a few examples where all it takes is a coat of paint to make your house an eyesore. But then I guess the homeowner would be spiting themself too because they would have to live with it 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, even if the book was not exactly set in the promised genre, it turned out to be a very intriguing read, and I would add it to my TBR without hesitation, so thanks for sharing! 🙂
    And it’s my first time as well with the term “spite house”: it’s true that we never stop learning something new!


  2. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 02/12/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  3. Like you, I was completely unfamiliar with the term spite house. Very interesting. This sounds like one I might enjoy. Did the vibe in any way feel similar to Shirley’s The Haunting of Hill House?


    • Interestingly, I have seen reviews make the comparison to The Haunting of Hill House, but I personally didn’t feel it. But then again, I never seem to agree with those kinds of comparisons you see on blurbs anyway, so take my opinion with a grain of salt 😛


  4. Excellent review, Mogsy! And I’ve learnt something new, as I’ve never heard of a spite house. Maybe we don’t have them in the UK… I’ll have to check it out! And glad that you found it an entertaining read, despite not quite meeting with your expectations – but the lack of horrific elements certainly makes it more interesting to me:)). Thank you for sharing.


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