Title: A House with Good Bones
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: March 28, 2023
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Gothic horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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.
I’ve never not loved any book I’ve read by T. Kingfisher… and having just finished A House with Good Bones, I can safely say that my record is intact!
Putting aside my overly convoluted wording, the bottom line is — A House with Good Bones is another fantastically creepy, highly readable book by an author who knows how to tell a great story!
There’s so much to love here. Southern Gothic vibe. Highly intelligent and rational main character (she has a Ph.D. in entomology!) thrust into a decidedly odd situation. Family secrets and a dark past. Childhood nightmares and memories that might not be what they seem. All of these ingredients, and more, woven into a tightly constructed, tense, yet weirdly enjoyable narrative with no wasted space or filler. No wonder I read this in a day!
Sam is a fabulous main character — smart, caring, and happy to talk about bugs at the drop of a hat. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily want to eat dinner with her, but she’d be great fun to hang out with. When her fieldwork for her next research project gets postponed, she heads to North Carolina to spend a few months with her mother, and notices that her mom is just not herself. Gone are the brightly painted walls, cheerful artwork, and frank conversations. Suddenly, the house is 50 shades of ecru, a Confederacy-era painting is hanging over the mantelpiece, and they even say grace before meals.
We are not a family that says grace over food. Gran Mae always insisted on it, but Mom’s Christianity has generally been limited to a fondness for Jesus Christ Superstar.
Does mom have early onset dementia? Is she having some sort of breakdown? Nothing makes sense, and Sam is worried.
On top of these worries, Sam is also a bit freaked out by weird occurrences. Like, why is there a vulture perched on the mailbox every time she drives up to the house? And why are there no bugs in the garden? And what’s up with that weird photo she finds in the attic?
I’m clearly not going to give anything away, so let’s just say that answers are revealed, secrets unraveled, and creepy-scary weirdness becomes more and more dominant as the story progresses. It gets terrifying and also icky, yet it’s totally fascinating and impossible to look away from.
One of the things I love about T. Kingfisher’s books is that no matter how creepy things get, the writing is so much fun! There are tons of one-liners and quips I could share, but even in non-flashy asides, the tone of voice is delightful:
She is a genuinely kindhearted person and a champion worrier. If there was an Olympic sport for worrying, Mom would win the gold and then give it to the silver medalist because she was afraid that they might feel bad for losing.
A House with Great Bones is so gripping and so enjoyable. The ending is great, with a big dramatic climax, a satisfying resolution, and just a little hint of lingering menace keeping it from feeling too sunshine-y and neatly wrapped up. I would happily spend more time hanging out with Sam! Even though I was very creeped out at times, I had so much fun reading this book, and recommend it wholeheartedly.