Sarah Gailey’s upcoming book Just Like Home hits a perfect sweet spot between true crime vibes and creeping gothic horror. Normally I try to read about one book to review a month; this book I finished in a week. It was so compelling I read the entire first half in one day.
In Just Like Home, Vera Crowder returns to her childhood home to care for her dying mother after being banished from the home by that mother as a teenager. Haunting the house is not just distant, dying Daphne Crowder but the memories of Vera’s father Francis, a convicted serial killer.
Gailey is a master of the third person limited point of view. We see the entire story through Vera’s eyes, and it is immediately obvious that even though we are in her head there are secrets she isn’t telling us. It makes for an incredibly effective narrative device, leading to a mid book reveal that actually had me gasping out loud. The pacing of the story is perfect, we learn things every chapter but the answers to questions often lead to more answers as the story gets darker and spookier.
One of the strengths of the book is the way it harnesses the cultural (and my personal) obsession with true crime. Gailey hooks you with the story of a woman facing her past and the crimes of her father, and slowly ratchets up the supernatural over the course of the book. I could practically hear the Francis Crowder: Serial Killer podcast in my head as I was reading. Just Like Home also deals with what happens to people after the podcasters and authors go home. Vera’s mother Daphne makes money on the side by running the house as an artist’s residence so people can experience the house of Francis Crowder. The current resident is James Duvall, son of Hammett Duvall who made his fame interviewing teen Vera for a book about her father. Vera regrets this and resents James for it, all while he lives in the shed behind the house and appears to be a favorite of her mother. While this is absolutely one of the book’s strengths, there’s a potential downfall to it. Being a true crime lover I instantly understood how the dynamic between Vera and James works, but I think a reader less versed in the genre might want more information on why Vera felt so betrayed by Hammett.
I am on record as saying “there’s no such thing as too much world building.” Just Like Home provides a different sort of world building than the epic planetary and magic systems of Jenn Lyons and Brandon Sanderson. Vera Crowder’s world is her childhood home, the house her father built, with guest appearances from other locations. It’s a common thing to say that a location is not just a set piece but a character, and Gailey takes this idea and runs with it in a number of fun and surprising ways.
It’s not unusual that a number of excellent horror books in the last few years feature cleaning out dead or dying relatives’ homes. The Twisted Ones by T Kingfisher was strongly in my mind in the first half of this book, as well as my own experiences recently clearing out my grandmother’s home. As the Silent Generation passes away and the first wave of Boomers begin to downsize and age, their children are left to sort through homes that are a lot more lived-in than anything that we might experience. It seems unlikely that Gen Xs, Millennials and younger will live in homes for 30-50+ years in the way our grandparents and parents do. Our possessions are more ephemeral with every passing year, photos or music that live in the cloud rather than an album or shelf. Having had to figure out what to do with 100+ CDs from the 90s, I can’t say that some of that is a bad thing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this very specific experience: a blend of grief, discovery, stress and home is the backdrop for multiple horror novels. Gailey does an excellent job setting their novel apart from others, and indeed I was very pleased to see it go a completely different but equally satisfying direction as The Twisted Ones.
Just Like Home comes out July 19, 2022 and will give you a nice goosebumpy chill to counteract the summer heat. Thanks to Tor for providing us with an advanced reader copy.