Berkley

There’s a certain point in most novelists’ careers when they fully hit their primes. Sometimes it’s within the first few books, and rarely, it happens in the twilights of their careers. For popular horror author Grady Hendrix, that time is right now.

A seasoned writer at this point, Hendrix has more than 10 novels to his name. Some of them have been collaborations, but most have been his own books; the best of which have come out in the last three years. These three novels include The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (2020), The Final Girls Support Group (2021), and his newest novel, which may be his best release yet, How to Sell a Haunted House.

The book follows Louise, a single mom living in California, who must return home to Charleston, SC, after the sudden death of both of her parents. While there, Louise must figure out what to do with her parents’ house, including her mother’s collection of homemade puppets, as well as deal with her brother Mark, with whom she has a long and volatile history and relationship.

While in the process of preparing the house for sale, Mark and Louise are made aware of a dark presence residing in their parents’ home. The two must figure out what the entity is and what it wants before it can attach itself to Louise, Mark, or anyone else the two may be close to.

Related: Why You Should Be Reading Grady Hendrix if You Love Horror

Starting with the characters, Hendrix has always had a knack for writing women leads throughout his books. Louise feels natural, relatable, and normally flawed, without the only focus being on her sexual endeavors, her looks, or her ability to please and counterbalance male characters, which is a pit that many male authors fall into when trying to write women characters. There were many times when Louise was written as unlikable, which is the point, because we’re all unlikable, sometimes.

Mark was written equally unlikeable, but for different reasons, which, like Louise, almost all led back to traumatic experiences brought forth by their relationships with their parents. Hendrix’s last few books have been extremely deep dives into different types of trauma, and How to Sell a Haunted House explores generational trauma and the issues it creates brilliantly. The reader grows to love these characters regardless of their faults and traumas, as a beautiful message of loving and accepting someone despite their mental illnesses is delivered.

Social messaging aside, How to Sell a Haunted House is very much an unhinged, wild ride of a horror book. There are moments of fun, ‘80s-style campiness mixed with terrifying supernatural encounters and flesh-ripping gore. The classic horror story innovation was clear, with segments full of inspiration (and never ripping off) exemplary horror movies throughout time, including Poltergeist, Child’s Play, and Annabelle.

Related: ‘Fairy Tale’ Book Review: Stephen King’s Best Novel in the Last Decade

It’s not all fun and games, though. Hendrix has an excellent talent for making his characters never feel safe to the reader, even his main ones. Using dark themes like parents’ deaths or strained and uncomfortable sibling relationships from the start and weaving them throughout the story quickly reminds the reader of reality and reels us back in, punishing us for having too much fun. Specifically, the doll known as Pupkin in the story goes back and forth between laughably silly and downright horrifying.

 

As someone who has dealt with both close familial death and sibling issues, the character-building, exploration, and pacing were a bit brutal. However, once the story got going, I was locked in and ready to roll, personal traumatic experiences be damned. From about a third of the way into the book, the horrific elements start rolling, and the train doesn’t stop until the last page.

Overall, I had a blast with How to Sell a Haunted House. Hendrix’s ability to consistently shift back and forth between campy, slapstick horror and serious, slow-burn, real-life nightmares is a talent that not many horror writers have. This one is probably the best book he’s released, and I’m incredibly excited for his next release.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
How to Sell a Haunted House
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Stephen is a massive horror, sci-fi, fantasy and action movie geek. He's an avid horror & sci-fi book/comic reader, musician and podcaster. He co-founded and co-hosts Motion Picture Meltdown (movie-roasting podcast since 2009), which is part of the United Cypher Podcast Network. Stephen is the Editor-at-Large for Horror Geek Life and an Associate Editor and contributing writer for MovieWeb. Feel free to contact him regarding screeners, reviews, press kits, interviews, and more!
book-review-how-to-sell-a-haunted-houseHow to Sell a Haunted House teeters between campy, fun, ’80s-style horror and dark, brooding, trauma-based realty. The characters are extremely well written, and while sometimes they seem unlikable, their explorations are fantastic. The book does some serious dives on familial loss, the dangers of grief, and the sometimes volatile relationships between siblings, and while the pacing can be hard for those that have dealt with those things, it transitions brilliantly into a whacky, gory, absolutely unhinged second act. This is probably the best book Grady Hendrix has released up to this point, and I totally recommend it.

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