I’ve learned that if three different people, on three different occasions, recommend the same book I am all but guaranteed to really enjoy that book. In this case, CV Hunt’s third recommendation came around the same time as the release of her newest book, Murder House. Trusting in my ‘rule of 3s’ theory, I grabbed a copy, and once again my scientifically unverified theory came through. Murder House, from ATLATL Press, was not only a great haunted house story, but also a gripping exploration into the dark intersection between loveless relationships, mental health struggles, and poverty.
CV Hunt writes with a direct, no-nonsense voice that is engrossing. The story opens with a Detroit newspaper’s account of a 1975 massacre where one man murdered and dismembered ten of his family members, including his mother, brother, sister in law, and their all seven of their children. The perpetrator was found at the scene of the crime, but the murder weapon and severed limbs were missing when authorities arrived.
After the hook, we quickly meet the narrator, Laura. She’s a depressed forty-something out of work server in a loveless relationship who can no longer afford her antidepressants. Her boyfriend, Brent, is a coldhearted writer. When his publisher hires him to write a book about the massacre, they also decide to create a buzz around the book, so they rent the infamous house for Laura and Brent to live in until he finishes the book.
While Brent seems indifferent to the idea of living in house where ten people were brutally murdered, Laura doesn’t like the idea at all. However, she’s also completely broke.
Like many haunted house stories, money, or a lack there of, plays a major role in keeping the couple in the house after things start getting weird. In Murder House, poverty goes well beyond simply keeping them in the house. Hunt writes about poverty with a strong sense of empathy and understanding. Laura and Brent are forced to consider money in nearly every decision they make. They have to share a car, which makes finding work a challenge for Laura if Brent needs to interview people in town about the murders. Going to the grocery store requires sacrifices in order to stretch every dollar. Even getting a second-hand mattress involves excessive negotiation and a tall tale to secure the purchase.
In fact, poverty may be the only reason Brent and Laura are still together. After all, how can someone leave a relationship without money, a car, or family and friends to turn to? So, they stay together.
This book has many strengths. For one, Hunt writes dread perfectly. The feeling of desperation never leaves you until the final page. Each chapter pulls you deeper and deeper into the darkest layers of the human mind. So much so, that by the end, the basement beneath a sinister house no longer seems threatening. As is often the case, it is hard to separate the real monsters from the darkness within those we care about the most; or sometimes from within ourselves.
Another strength of the book is seeing everything through Laura’s eyes. Being off her meds creates the potential for an unreliable narrator. Is Brent acting strange? Is the house really coming alive? Can she pull through another failed relationship? Can she do better than Brent? Is her life worth saving? Is she losing her mind? All of these questions seem to present themselves in one way or another as the novel progresses. With each layer, we get a little closer to the truth of Laura’s reliability as a narrator.
As the tension builds, we are introduced to the third and final character of the story, Dan. He runs a meditation center out of an old, dilapidated church down the road from the house. He presents to Laura like an enigma. His scar covered body, welcoming demeanor, and stoic nature prove enticing to Laura, especially as the tension boils over with Brent. Dan also has something she desperately needs: a job. While Dan seems to have everything Laura’s looking for, is he a pure heart or is he driven by something much darker?
In the heart of present-day Detroit, the combination of having only three characters and two locations, Murder House embodies true isolation. Loneliness and a longing for deeper connections really hit home in 2020. Coming off nationwide shutdowns, many readers will relate to this sense of hopelessness. Despite the struggles, Laura’s a fighter. Her gritty nature creates a sense of hope for a better future. If there is one thing readers need now, more than ever, it is the sense of hope that things have a chance to work out well.
After all, maybe the figure lurking on the outer limits of your peripheral vision is nothing more than a figment of your imagination, but then again, maybe it’s not. Either way, there is only one way to find out and a little hope never hurts when venturing into the shadows. If you are looking for a beautifully dark and twisted haunted house novel, that offers so much more, then look no further than CV Hunt’s Murder House. You may find it is a story that sticks with you for several days after you turn the final page.
Kyle Feuerbach is a high school teacher with a passion for horror books and movies. When he is not teaching, running a fitness business with his wife, or spending time with his son, he is likely reading, writing, or repairing manual typewriters.