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The Bonus Room Ben H Winters Main

"The Bonus Room" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Quirk Books

the bonus room ben h winters poster large

Written by Ben H. Winters
2023, 253 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st August 2023


Ben Winters is one of those authors you do not see much chat about in the horror community. However, as a writer who seamlessly moves from speculative to dystopian thrillers he has much to offer readers looking for something slightly more off beat than run-of-the-mill horror. I was a huge fan of both Underground Airlines (2016) and Golden State (2019), but his masterpiece is undoubtedly The Last Policeman Trilogy (2012-14), which totally blew me away and leaves most horror apocalyptic tales quivering in its huge shadow. Spread over three novels, a giant comet heads straight for Earth, and as a result crime becomes rampant as society collapses. The level of detail in this gripping story is staggering, however, one solitary policeman just cannot walk away from his job….

Interestingly, The Bonus Room was previously published back in 2011 as Bedbugs: A Novel of Infestation, with the original edition still in print and the same publisher onboard, so I have no idea why it has been repackaged with a new name. Especially when considering it already has over 3000 ratings on Goodreads and 500 reviews, so can hardly be marketed as an unknown classic waiting to be rediscovered. The original title of the novel is probably a much better fit; however, it does have a slightly trashy ring to it, which this book most definitely is not. Once you have completed The Bonus Room, you will realise the new name does make some sense, if in a slightly more roundabout manner than the original.

Coming in at a lean 253 pages, I started The Bonus Room on a Thursday and finished it the next day, so it has genuine page-turning quality. The first half is undoubtedly the strongest, where the scene is beautifully set with events slowly amplifying. I would not quite call the second part an anticlimax, but it gets slightly repetitive and perhaps I expected more to happen as it gears up for an ending which is out of kilter with what precedes it. If you are looking for a scary haunted house or Amityville Horror-type of horror, then The Bonus Room might disappoint you. It is much subtler and more psychological than that, with main character Susan Wendt finding herself struggling to settle in her new rented apartment on 56 Cranberry Street, Brooklyn, New York.

Early in The Bonus Room Susan and her husband Alex find their dream apartment, which they snap up, as it's incredibly cheap, occupying the top two floors of an old house, with the elderly owner Andrea living below. It is worth noting there is a lot of talk of money in this novel. Susan is a lawyer who is taking a career break to concentrate on painting, whilst Alex owns a relatively successful photography business. ‘Richness’ is in the eye of the beholder and even though money is supposed to be tight, the couple can still afford a part-time nanny, with Susan spending cash left right and centre whilst Alex tries to tighten the financial belt. This regular money talk might reduce your sympathy for Susan as things start to go south and her problems start to mount. Although first published in 2011, the whole premise did vaguely remind me of the yuppies-in-peril fad, which was trendy in the eighties and nineties for a relatively brief spell.

Lurking in the background of the plot is the fact New York is suffering from a bedbug epidemic which is so bad, friends avoid others who might be infected just in case the curse is passed onto them like some kind of plague. Early in proceedings, Susan, who is a very bad sleeper borderline insomniac, notices a blood splodge on her pillow which she believes to be evidence of bedbugs. From this moment on the story is a weird spiraling of obsessions, escalations and psychological torture for Susan, as the supposed bedbugs only bite her with their daughter, husband and nanny unaffected. I do not want to say too much more about the plot except this book is going to have you scratching, itching and feeling paranoid about your own personal hygiene.

Although I enjoyed The Bonus Room, there are a few things and plot holes which are not explained adequately and just do not add up, but for the sake of spoilers, am not going to go into any detail. For the most part, this is a fascinating literary, instead of in-your-face horror, with the exception of the jarring ending, which is a wild explosion in comparison to the earlier slow build-up of tension, with Susan’s personal anxieties oozing from the page. Damn, now I’m feeling itchy...


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Buy from Amazon UK.

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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer - UK
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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