Book Review: “The September House”

“The September House”

By Carissa Orlando

c.2023, Berkley, $27.00, 344 pages

The curb appeal is pretty high. Really, the house has everything: enough bedrooms, enough bathrooms, the yard is partially fenced, good-sized, but not too much; there’s a ton of kitchen storage, a tool shed out back and the cutest little garden. Seriously, the place is great; the appliances are included, so are the window treatments, and, as in the new book “The September House” by Carissa Orlando, maybe even a few ghosts.

It had been her dream house. She thought it was Hal’s, too, but that was before he told her he was leaving, and he got into a cab.

To be fair, Margaret wasn’t looking forward to a fourth September in the old Victorian house, either. But Hal never had the kind of relationship she had with the home’s permanent occupants, the gauzy maid or the little boy who’d bite you if you weren’t careful. Hal never even bothered to learn the names of the children who hazily appeared, pointed to the boarded-up basement stairs, and whispered “He’s down there.” Margaret was sure he’d seen them, but he told himself he didn’t — until the blood on the walls got to be too much and he got tired of his possessions being moved by unseen hands.

So Hal was gone and that was fine. Margaret was used to handling things by herself anyhow, until her daughter, Katherine, decided to visit and that would just make things worse. Margaret loved her daughter but Katherine could be, well, intense. And profane. Katherine’s girlfriend had just broken up with her, so add “angry” to that list.

Yep, this visit would be a challenge. But Margaret was up for it. She’d been warned that a death or two had occurred in the house, and she’d been through three Septembers of mayhem with the “pranksters” and spirits of the deceased. She knew what to expect. Another September shouldn’t be a problem, as long as she could keep the cellar door nailed shut…

Sometimes, a smirk isn’t a bad thing. It’s quite appealing when it’s accompanied by a “whatcha gonna do?” shrug and a story like what’s inside “The September House.” A smirk’s prime stuff when you get a good, and deliciously gruesome, scare, too.

For many pages into this novel, in fact, you may be unsure if author Carissa Orlando is poking you in the ribs or not. Is Margaret insane or just insanely patient with her home and its ethereal residents? Is Hal the mysterious “he,” or is Hal maybe mysteriously dead? There’s humor inside this novel — dark humor, but humor nonetheless — but then tiny chuckles turn into a tsunami of horror and oops, you barely noticed it coming.

Figure out one scary thing and another leaps out of a closet, screaming, teeth bared. Never mind the skeleton buried in the woods.As if you could forget. This is a fun book, but unsettling enough to make you want to keep the lights on. For horror fans with a humorous streak, “The September House” should have big appeal.

— The Bookworm Sez