Published May 14th 2024 by Berkley  A  single mother working in the gothic mansion of a reclusive horror director stumbles upon terrifying s...

Feature Fiction || The House That Horror Built by Christina Henry

Published May 14th 2024 by Berkley 

single mother working in the gothic mansion of a reclusive horror director stumbles upon terrifying secrets in the captivating new novel from the national bestselling author of Good Girls Don't Die and Horseman.

Harry Adams has always loved horror movies, so it’s not a total coincidence that she took the job cleaning house for movie director Javier Castillo. His forbidding graystone Chicago mansion, Bright Horses, is filled from top to bottom with terrifying props and costumes, as well as glittering awards from his career making films that thrilled audiences—until family tragedy and scandal forced him to vanish from the industry.
Javier values discretion, and Harry has always tried to clean the house immaculately, keep her head down, and keep her job safe—she needs the money to support her son. But then she starts hearing noises from behind a locked door. Noises that sound remarkably like a human voice calling for help, even though Javier lives alone and never has visitors. Harry knows that not asking questions is a vital part of working for Javier, but she soon finds that the sinister house may be home to secrets she can’t ignore.

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Javier Castillo had brown hair going gray, brown eyes behind steel-rimmed spectacles, was on the shorter side (though not as short as Harry, who had reached five feet at age thirteen and never grown again) and overall had the completely nondescript appearance of any random person on the block. He was the sort who would never attract attention unless you knew who he was, would never be whispered about if he went to the grocery store-which he never did. He never went anywhere if he could help it.

Because of this, very few people in his neighborhood realized one of the world's greatest living horror directors lived among them: Javier Castillo, director and writer of fifteen films, most of them visually groundbreaking, genre-defying masterpieces. His film The Monster had won the Oscar for Best Picture five years earlier and swept most of the other major categories along the way, including Director and Original Screenplay. The world had waited breathlessly for the announcement of his next project.

Then a shocking, unthinkable incident happened, and Castillo withdrew into his California home, and there was no mention of potential new movies while the paparazzi stood outside his house with their cameras ready for any sign of life within.

After one too many wildfires came too close to his residence he decided to move, somewhat incongruously, to Chicago. He packed up his legendary and possibly priceless collection of movie props and memorabilia and brought them to a cold Midwestern city where the last major urban burning was decidedly in the distant past.

If it wasn't for those California wildfires Harry would still be collecting unemployment, frantically responding to job ads with a horde of other desperate people, never hearing back, wondering how long Gabe would believe her tight smile followed by, "Everything's going to be fine."

But instead there was this miracle, this miracle of a strange and reclusive director who needed someone to help him clean his collection of weird stuff three days a week, and so Harry climbed up the stairs and listened to Javier Castillo huff and puff.
The second floor was essentially one big room divided by a load-bearing archway. The stairs curved up to the southwest corner of this room and stopped there. The stair to the third floor was on the northeast corner, which always made Harry think of a Clue board, with its seemingly random staircases scattered all around. There was a black railing running along from the southeast corner of the room to the top of the stairs to keep people from falling straight down the first-floor stairwell.

The bucket of cleaning supplies was ready at the top of the stairs. Harry and Mr. Castillo each took a long-handled duster. Mr. Castillo went to the far end of the room while Harry started on the closest figure.

The blue room wasn't entirely blue. The carpet was blue-and Harry really thought he ought to get rid of the carpet; it collected dust and it was such a difficult room to vacuum. The wallpaper had blue flowers patterned on it, blue flowers that made Harry think of Agatha Christie's story "The Blue Geranium."

Except that's not quite right, Harry thought. In "The Blue Geranium" the color of the flower on the wall changed to blue because of a chemical in the air-proof of poison.

Nobody was in danger of poisoning in Bright Horses. Nobody lived there except Mr. Castillo-and his props, of course, and some of those were so lifelike that Harry sometimes thought they really were watching her, just out of the corner of her eye. When she'd turn, the figures would be still and glassy-eyed, the artificial pupils staring off into the middle distance, never having focused on her or anything else at all.

Excerpted from The House That Horror Built by Christina Henry Copyright © 2024 by Christina Henry. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Christina Henry is a horror and dark fantasy author whose works include Horseman, Near the Bone, The Ghost Tree, Looking Glass, The Girl in Red, The Mermaid, Lost Boy, Alice, Red Queen, and the seven-book urban fantasy Black Wings series. Learn more online at