Review: The Agony House by Cherie Priest

Like most people, I follow Cherie Priest on Twitter for the adventures in pictures of Scorndog, Grayson, House Leopard and recently departed ElderCat. (Most people do follow her for that reason, right? I’m not THAT weird? Also the book news, sure, but really, pet pictures.)

Years ago, I read Boneshaker, and really enjoyed it, so when I heard people raving about The Agony House, I put it on my giant, overwhelming list of books to be read.

I finally snagged it from the library last week, and it did not disappoint.

The Agony House is about Denise, a girl who moves back to New Orleans with her mom and her stepdad because her mom got in on one of those “restore a storm-damaged historical house” deals. Denise and her mom moved from New Orleans after The Storm (Katrina) when Denise was just a baby. Her dad and grandmother were killed by the hurricane.

Although really, the book is about the house, because it’s not just a regular run down house that they buy. It’s haunted. There’s definitely two ghosts, one named Joe, who wrote the Lucida Might comics (one of which Denise and her ghost-hunting friend Terry find in the attic that’s never been published) and another, older lady, that the house probably belonged to. Joe is kind of an asshole ghost, especially once Denise starts digging into his past and reading the comic book. He’s haunting the house because he fell down the attic stairs and broke his neck, but everyone agrees from pretty early on that he probably deserved it. 900

The comic book is the really cool part of this book, and I love the very modern way that it was structured. Between the chapters, and sometimes in the middle of the chapters, are the pages of the comic book, which are beautifully illustrated by Tara O’Connor. Lucida Might is a perfect vintage heroine, a la Nancy Drew, rescuing her helpless boyfriend Doug from danger after danger. At the same time though, her story is really fresh and modern and full of delightful feminism. High five for that.

Cherie Priest writes a good ghost story. It was a coincidence that I read about this haunted old house with a wasp nest in one of the rooms at the same time that it’s spring here and we’re dealing with a little wasp infestation in our apartment, but it really added to the tension of the story.

I do a lot of my reading right before bed, and when I was firmly in the middle of this book there were a couple of nights that I had to put it down and read something else, because my heart was racing, and I was thinking about ghostly Joe and those damn wasps and wondering what was under my bed? Doesn’t help when the cat stares at the ceiling probably looking for demons, either.

The other thing that I thought was handled pretty well was the socioeconomic part of the story. Denise and her family are white, and they move into a predominantly black neighborhood in New Orleans. The house is also literally the only one on the block. They are aware that they’re participating in a form of gentrification, and some of the other characters call them out on it. Denise and her family do their best to reassure everyone that they’re aware of this, and want to do as little harm as possible. They’re poor too, and they while they do want to turn the house into a B&B, they also want to live there. They do a decent job of becoming part of the neighborhood, and not just trying to “fix it.”

As far as the mystery part of the story goes, I liked it. I did mostly figure it out, but not totally, because the ghosts were doing a good job of distracting me from the clues.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

Let’s call it 7.5 out of 10 totally arbitrary jerk ghosts.

 

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