The cover of this F&SF features Nicholas Grunas’ rendition of the David Whitney House, built inthe 1890s by Detroit’s own lumber baron. Nearly a century later the house was subdivided into offices, one of which author David Erik Nelson’s father had occupied. Drawing on his memory of the place, and other bits of real life, plus misremembered raw material, Nelson concocted “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House,” this issue’s engaging novella.
As we begin, Glenn and Lennie, who work for Fleischermann Properties, are assessing a newly purchased property surrounded by legendary Detroit rubble. The three-story house is peculiar for both its condition (surprisingly good), and it’s inexplicable lay. “It looked a little . . . I dunno. Slanted, but not quite slanted. The turret was straight, the chimney plumb, the doors and windows aligned and square in their frames, but none of the elements seemed quite square to each other.”
When the two men step inside they soon learn the house has magical properties. Fun—but flipping it could be an issue. Later, Glenn shows the house to art student Anja, whom he meets at a bar, partly to impress her and partly because she’s a photographer intent on capturing the “Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.” Once inside, what appeared to be an empty house now seems occupied. But by what?
Another flipper and a couple of cops join the party, and the house turns seriously ominous with a twisted reality none of the characters can truly grasp. “Crooked House” is peopled with solid characters, escalating tension, and fluid writing that successfully suspends ankle-deep disbelief. It’s more fun than your favorite HGTV marathon.