Rumor has it that the abandoned house by the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a witch. But rumors won’t stop carpenter Mike Kostner from rehabbing the place as a haunted house attraction. Soon he’ll learn that fresh wood and nails can’t keep decades of rumors down. There are noises in the walls, and fresh blood on the floor: secrets that would be better not to discover. And behind the rumors is a real ghost who will do whatever it takes to ensure the house reopens. She needs people to fill her house on Halloween. There’s a dark, horrible ritual to fulfill. Because while the witch may have been dead… she doesn’t intend to stay that way.
I have a love-hate relationship with The House by the Cemetery by John Everson, and it’s really tearing me apart. I absolutely enjoyed the story itself, but there’s a few issues, one of which is a huge red flag, that I simply can’t allow to go unspoken–and if other reviews are any clue, I’m not the only one that’s immensely bothered by it.
The story involves a witch that died in 1963, a haunted house, a haunted house attraction, and a lot of characters (too many to keep track of without a notebook, actually). Hired to repair the haunted house so that guests can safely walk through it, Mike Kostner spends much of his time drinking beer and talking with the girls, Katie and Emery. At the same time, Jeanie’s been hired on as a makeup artist for the upcoming attraction and drags her boyfriend, Bong, into it. Then there’s Jillie and Ted, paranormal investigators. And then there are three other groups of people to form more members of the cast, which I found to be extremely overwhelming.
At this point in my review, I usually talk about characters and their development, what I like about them, what I don’t, etc. In this case, I can’t really do that. The only character I managed to forge any sort of emotional connection with was Jeanie, and it’s mainly sympathetic. As for the rest of the roles played, I’m largely disappointed. Why? Because there’s a severe lack of sensitivity in this novel–which has been mentioned in several other reviews. There are four characters whose sole defining characteristic is either their race or their weight. There’s no depth given beyond that to them as an individual. The remarks dealing with weight are largely shaming and those dealing with race are stereotypical. And here’s where I’m going to take a moment to discuss the character Bong, which I feel is the most blatant insult to another race’s customs that I’ve seen in a long time.
Bong’s full name is Bong-soon Mon. Phonetically, that sounds a lot like “bong soon man.” It’s not overly obvious if you’re not familiar with Korean names, and Bong-soon is an actual name used in the drama Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. However, in this case, Everson shortens Bong-soon, which is actually the character’s name (whether it’s his first or last, I’m not sure), to Bong. Thus he makes it more of a laughing matter (really, it’s not funny), whether it’s intentional or unintentional. Usually I’m not sensitive to these types of material, but in this book the way it comes across is really bothersome and, like several other readers, I agree with the idea that this book desperately needs an edit for sensitivity. Please bear in mind that I read an arc of this book and so I’m not sure if any of these issues were addressed in the final publication.
EDIT: After speaking with the author, he explained to me that the reason he shortened the name as he did comes from personal experience with someone that had the same name, and what they went by. Everson also assured me it was not his intent to fat shame those characters. I really appreciate that he reached out to me, and feel it’s important that my misconception be corrected, but not hidden.
Plotwise, I adored this book. I can’t go too much into detail without sharing spoilers, but I can say this: the Everson does have a talent for creating beautifully grisly, albeit somewhat repetitive, scenes. The bloodbath that takes place near the end of the book is a glorious gore-fest that I felt the rest of the story worked up to quite well, even if it crawled earlier on while Mike was working on the house. As for the setting, it’s well written. I liked the idea of a house next to a cemetery, and its easy to infer its age without being told: it’s too close to a turnpike to have been put there before the turnpike was built. I was, however, confused by the juxtaposition of a heavily wooded house and cemetery in close proximity to a city or town, as in my experience turnpikes usually don’t have exits between major locales. At least, not very many present-day ones do, as most of them have been converted to, or created as, a controlled-access highway, where intersecting roads tend to cross over or under so that they do not impede traffic. That said, it strikes me as weird that a single house and cemetery would have an exit from a turnpike.
So I decided to google cemeteries and turnpikes, and what did I find? Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is an actual haunted locale found in the suburbs of Chicago. And yes, it actually is that close to a turnpike! If you like to watch Ghost Adventures, the cemetery was featured in a 2012 episode. Also, the cemetery is extremely old. Even better? Many of the ghost stories referenced in the book are actual tales surrounding the cemetery. It’s actually pretty fascinating and I wouldn’t even have known about it were it not for Everson’s book.
Overall, I did enjoy reading this book. I loved the homage to horror movies of all types, including lesser known genres. I absolutely adored the way in which some of the characters were manipulated, too. Hence why I stated early in this review that I have a love-hate relationship with it. Because of the lack of sensitivity though, and the way I was made to feel as a reader because of it (I’m overweight, after all), I can’t give it more than three skulls.
I’d like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.