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Hate House by John C. Foster - Review

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John C. Foster

Encyclopocalypse Publications

297 Pages (E-book) (Paperback)


Hate House Cover

The haunted house story is one of the largest subgenres of horror fiction, so much so that some authors have made a career out of penning such tales. The subgenre has so many plot tropes and conventions horror fans know by heart that many haunted house tales are mere convention compendiums. When I started reading Hate House by John C. Foster, I half-expected to compile a mental checklist of such tired tropes I would find in the story. But I soon realized that although Hate House has some very familiar plot elements, this book is original and compelling. It’s as much an entertaining mystery as a horror story.

The titular Hate House is an abandoned mansion on a small island off the coast of Maine. The property has a sinister history, but is now the subject of a probate dispute between the late Simone Laurent’s estate and her husband, Marcus Abbott. Both sides hire investigators to spend time in the house and get proof of who the rightful 

owner is. (The book never specifies the nature of such proof.) Marcus hires Megan French, a woman who has been working out of her apartment since her boyfriend Josh jumped out of their apartment window and killed himself a few years earlier. Josh’s relatives think Megan killed him, an opinion bolstered by a widely viewed Dateline expose. Since the show aired, a group of religious fanatics Megan dubs “The Righteous” has camped outside her apartment, harassing her. She decides that a change of scenery is good, but she may have second thoughts when she sees Hate House.

As I mentioned, readers will find some familiar haunted house conventions in this story. The house is enormous, with long corridors on the upper floors and many locked doors. There’s also a mysterious, dimly lit basement. The mansion also has rotting floorboards, which could collapse under the weight of an unwary traveler. The only way to get to and from the island is by rowboat. (Megan jokes about how fit she’s becoming after rowing back and forth multiple times during her stay.) Megan’s portable generator provides the only power. Further, the weather is always either bitter cold and foggy or bitter cold and stormy. To make the atmosphere even more foreboding, the other investigator disappears without a trace a couple of days into Megan’s stay. 

The author does an excellent job of describing the house and its bizarre furnishings. He gives readers a sense of place that’s more difficult to do in horror fiction than in a movie where the production design is visible. His description of the weird things that happen to Megan is more disjointed by design. As these strange events (which I won’t spoil) unfold, readers will wonder if supernatural forces or real-life troublemakers are responsible. Or, perhaps, much of what the author describes solely exists in Megan’s mind. She’s not the most stable protagonist. She has an abrasive personality, smokes incessantly, and gobbles down Lexapro like jelly beans. By describing what’s going on in a somewhat chaotic manner as Megan experiences the events, the author leaves open all possibilities for an explanation.

Hate House is as much a mystery as a traditional haunted house story. As creepy as it is, what’s happening on the island becomes secondary to why it’s happening. Megan’s investigation (hampered by her lack of cell phone coverage on the island) eventually reveals some surprising answers. The storyline has several twists I didn’t see coming. The book’s conclusion requires an enormous suspension of belief, even by the standards of this genre, but I enjoyed it. And unlike in many similar books, the author ties up most loose ends by the end of the story.

Although I enjoyed Hate House, I had some problems with the organization. The author’s powers of description are considerable, often making me feel a part of the house’s bizarre architecture. However, he sometimes struggles when incorporating significant plot points into the story. He transitions into important flashbacks without warning, the literary equivalent of a cinematic jump scare. His style sometimes made the storyline more challenging to follow than it should have been.

Overall, I was very impressed by Hate House. The author takes a traditional haunted-house-on-an-isolated-island setting and turns the novel into an internet-era mystery with roots going back decades in the past. Several of the book’s most sinister chapters are excerpts from the journal Marcus kept while unhappily residing on the island nearly 50 years earlier. In most books of this nature, the primary source of suspense is readers wondering whether the protagonist will survive. Here, I was hooked, trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. The answer was something entirely unexpected. This book is a classic midnight page-turner. Despite the novel’s title, horror and mystery fans will love Hate House.  

NOTE: The publisher graciously provided me with a copy of this book through BookSirens. However, the decision to review the book and the contents of this review are entirely my own.

Watch the author discuss his writing career with the hosts of the Bonehead Weekly podcast:

John C. Foster was born in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and later moved to New Hampshire and Los Angeles.  A writer of dark fiction and thrillers, John’s novel Dead Men was published by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (PMMP) in 2015 and his second novel, Mister White, was published by Grey Matter Press in April of 2016. His debut collection of short stories, Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances, was published by PMMP in January 2017. His short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Shock TotemDark Moon Digest and Dread – the Best of Grey Matter Press among others. He lives in Brooklyn with the actress Linda Jones and their dog Coraline.

Buy John C. Foster's books on Amazon:

Mister White Cover
Dead Men Cover
The Isle Cover

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