A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In the past few years, T. Kingfisher, aka Ursula Vernon, has released some very good horror novellas. Her book from last year,
What Moves the Dead
, is a fantastic retelling of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," and you should read it right after you finish this. Apparently her work is selling well enough that according to the acknowledgments, her publisher is asking her for more books, which is nice work if you can get it.
But with books of the quality of this one, I'm not surprised. At 243 pages, this is a little longer than the previous novellas, which is still a pretty lean novel by modern standards. Nevertheless, the author makes good use of the extra page count, with the book's protagonist and voice immediately pulling you in:
There was a vulture on the mailbox of my grandmother's house.
As omens go, it doesn't get much more obvious than that. This was a black vulture, not a turkey vulture, but that's about as much as I could tell you. I have a biology degree, but it's in bugs, not birds. The only reason that I knew that much was because the identification key for vultures in North America is extremely straightforward. Does it have a black head? It's a black vulture. Does it have a red head? It's a turkey vulture. This works unless you're in the Southwest, where you have to add: Is it the size of a small fighter jet? It's a California condor.
This is Samantha Montgomery, an "archaeoentomologist" ("It's fine if you've never heard of me. I study insects in archaeological remains"--which is apparently a real job). She is another one of Kingfisher's patented relatable, practical characters, ordinary people who get thrown into extraordinary circumstances and find out what they're made of. As this is another gothic horror story--and more to the point, a Southern gothic horror story, which is its own peculiar beast--the author takes her time with the setting, characters and atmosphere, doling out the clues and foreshadowing and gradually raising the shivering sense of creeping dread. The vulture is important at the end, as is Sam's grandmother and her grandmother's house. And the roses. OMG, the roses. Those of you who don't like roses, and maybe those of you who do, might consider chopping all your bushes down after reading this.
Following the pattern of previous books, when everything has been set in place and one incident flips the switch of the plot in motion, it hits you like a battering ram. The last quarter of the book is full-on horror, with Sam, her mother, her mother's handyman, and the "old witch" down the street fighting for their lives. It's a breathless gasping roller-coaster ride that I could not put down (while glancing out my own windows to make sure my house had not fallen into a sinkhole). I will buy just about anything Kingfisher/Vernon writes, but this is one of her best.
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