REVIEW: A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
A haunting Southern Gothic from an award-winning master of suspense, A House With Good Bones explores the dark, twisted roots lurking just beneath the veneer of a perfect home and family.
“Mom seems off.”
Her brother’s words echo in Sam Montgomery’s ear as she turns onto the quiet North Carolina street where their mother lives alone.
She brushes the thought away as she climbs the front steps. Sam’s excited for this rare extended visit, and looking forward to nights with just the two of them, drinking boxed wine, watching murder mystery shows, and guessing who the killer is long before the characters figure it out.
But stepping inside, she quickly realizes home isn’t what it used to be. Gone is the warm, cluttered charm her mom is known for; now the walls are painted a sterile white. Her mom jumps at the smallest noises and looks over her shoulder even when she’s the only person in the room. And when Sam steps out back to clear her head, she finds a jar of teeth hidden beneath the magazine-worthy rose bushes, and vultures are circling the garden from above.
To find out what’s got her mom so frightened in her own home, Sam will go digging for the truth. But some secrets are better left buried.
Dear Ms. Kingfisher,
Yeah, only for you will I read a horror book because it’s really not my style. I’ve collected your other books in this genre but haven’t had the guts to read one yet. It may be a while before I feel ready to tackle another. It will also be a while before I can look at a rose bush or a lady beetle in quite the same way I did before I finished this book.
Okay so trying to avoid spoilers here. If there’s a type of horror story I like, I’d say it’s this type. Things start normally. “Nice and normal,” as Sam’s Gran Mae would say it. Shit, now that I’ve used that phrase, it reminds me that I don’t want to watch “Leave It to Beaver” anytime soon, either. I don’t vacuum wearing heels and pearls so that’s okay. Wait – back to the review.
From the beginning, it’s made clear that Sam, her mother, and her brother Brad never liked living with Gran Mae. I can understand that. Gran Mae was … obviously not right but also had her moments of caring. After all, she got Sam a Buzz Lightyear toy that time for Christmas. But Gran Mae ends up taking “crazy Southern grandma” to a whole new level.
But Sam and Brad escaped to their own lives far away from the rural subdivision in which their mother now lives since she inherited Gran Mae’s house with the beautiful rose bushes in the backyard. The yard where no insects seem to live which is something that disturbs and angers Sam, the archeological entomologist. Sam starts getting weird vibes almost from the moment when she arrives but with her scientific mind, she rations things away, comes up with possible reasons, refuses to question her mother about mom’s weird behavior. But the vultures sitting on neighboring roofs and especially the one camped out on the mailbox, yeah they’re hard to explain.
Slowly, things start happening. Nightmares, waking nightmares – we’ve all had them when you think you’re awake and someone is in the room with you and you can’t move. Then the hordes of ladybugs appear in the house before Sam starts digging into her family history a bit and whoa boy that’s bizarre. Still she tries to be logical, think rationally, not give into any heebie jeebies. Me, I would have been heebie jeebie-ing out of there but until Sam digs something up from the garden she is determined not to give way to panic.
Then guess who shows up for dinner before, as the saying goes, “all hell breaks loose”? From that point on, I just hung on for the ride as at times it was hard to get a mental picture of what the scene of chaos looked like. As one character says, “This is fucked up.” Nightmares come to life and a desperate scramble ensues to keep from getting to know certain family members better than you ever wanted to. Yeesh. I was furiously trying to finish this before bedtime – and managed as I was madly tearing through it to see what would happen and how things would end – and now I just hope I don’t dream of little white hands. B+ for making me laugh, then squirm, and maybe leave the radio playing low as I (hopefully) drift off to sleep.
I’ll follow T. Kingfisher anywhere. I read her previous two horror novels and while they obviously weren’t my favorites, they were worth the fear factor. Her horror is more grotesque and creepy than bloody. I wouldn’t read them before bedtime.
FWIW she has another book coming out in the fall (Thornhedge) that looks more like Nettle & Bone.
I, too, am not a horror fan (although, oddly enough, two of my favorite podcasts—SHE WORE BLACK and TALKING SCARED—are about the horror genre), but I purchased Kingfisher’s THE TWISTED ONES when it was on sale for $1.99 because there’d been such strong buzz about it. It was certainly a story that slowly built the sense of menace and “things not being right”—but I don’t think I could have continued to read it if I hadn’t been assured from the first page that both the heroine and her dog survive what happens. There’s no doubt Kingfisher is excellent at evoking a slowly-building dread, but for me a little horror goes a long, long way.
@SusanS: Yep, start reading them as soon as it’s light and power through before darkness falls.
@DiscoDollyDeb: Is there a literary version of “Does the Dog Die?” And agreed about slowly building dread. I can keep going with that whereas if an author wallops me over the head with a bloody body part on page 2, I’m oughta there.