Book Review: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor (September 20, 2016)
Length: 368 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
You never know what you’re going to get when you pick up a book by Cherie Priest. This is the third novel I’ve read by the author, after Boneshaker and Maplecroft, but in neither of those cases did I feel strongly enough to continue their respective series. The Family Plot, however, was a little different. I found myself hooked from the first page, and didn’t come up for air until I was finished.
Maybe it was because of the book’s topic. I’ve always been drawn to stories about haunted houses, and the entire premise of The Family Plot is built around the subject. We begin with an introduction to Chuck Dutton, founder and owner of Music City Salvage, a company that specializes in the stripping of old properties and then reselling the valuable pieces. Unfortunately, business isn’t doing too well, and Chuck is one bad deal away from going under. So when the stately Augusta Withrow walks through his office door offering him salvage rights to her sizeable historic family estate and all for a steal of $40,000, he’s understandably dubious. Still, the gorgeous photos of the house’s interiors and the potential for a large payoff ultimately leads him agree to the job, and Chuck decides to send a skeleton crew headed by his daughter Dahlia to undertake the project.
Dahlia and her team—made up of her cousin Bobby, his son Gabe, and a relatively new employee of Music City named Brad—all make the drive out together to the old house nestled in the backwoods of Chattanooga, Tennessee…and arrive to a veritable goldmine. With only a few days to complete the job, the four of them get down to stripping the place right away. Still, while the splendor of the Withrow estate is certainly everything that was promised, the crew soon uncovers a few surprises. For one thing, Augusta had failed to mention the small graveyard on the property, tucked away among the overgrown trees. To save time and money, the team has also decided to forgo hotels and spend the nights at the house, but strange things are happening and they only seem to get worse when darkness falls. Then, all four of them start to see people who aren’t really there, ghosts that are watching, waiting, and trying to communicate something—but none of the salvage crew have any idea what that could possibly be.
Imagine HGTV’s Salvage Dogs meets Paranormal Activity and you have a pretty good idea of what The Family Plot is about. On the one hand, there’s something very appealing about exploring old houses, the idea of uncovering history and not knowing what amazing treasures you’ll find. On the other hand though, there’s also a certain wariness, knowing that when a house gets to a certain age it can almost take on a life and spirit of its own. Dahlia is someone who understands that all too well, especially since she makes a living from gutting places such as these. From the moment the crew steps foot onto the Withrow estate, an atmosphere of foreboding immediately descends upon the reader. The house itself is like a character in this story; you get the feeling that it knows these people are going to come in and take it apart, and it is pissed.
Plus, in addition to a good old house haunting you also get a healthy dose of family drama. Those relationship dynamics add an extra layer of tension to an already strained situation, exacerbating the setting’s creepy atmosphere and the desperation caused by the time crunch. In many ways, the fantastic development of Dahlia’s personality helped this book stand out for me, along with the deconstruction of her character’s hurt and anger following her messy divorce. Worse, her hotheaded and recalcitrant cousin Bobby is also her ex-husband’s best friend, which makes his presence on her crew even more awkward. Still, Dahlia is not someone to complain about her circumstances, and manages to wrangle her crew effectively using a smart give-and-take philosophy.
Another noteworthy aspect of this book was its general matter-of-fact attitude about the existence of ghosts. It seems almost every single haunted house story that I’ve read in recent memory have tackled this with ambiguity or left readers wondering, “What was real and what wasn’t?” Not so with The Family Plot. Ghosts are an occupational hazard when you’re in Dahlia’s line of work, and she acknowledges their presence with an almost insouciant air of someone who has seen it all. There is no question of whether or not there really are ghosts at the Withrow estate—the answer is a resounding yes, they are real, and yes, they are there. What we’re left wondering is who they are and what they want, and yet those puzzles are enough to keep the mystery of the story going, along with the pervasive sense that something just doesn’t feel right (well, besides the fact that there are actually ghosts). Everything that Augusta has told Music City and everything the crew has learned sounds legit, but there is still that nagging feeling that not everything is adding up, and so you want to keep reading to find out what is going on.
With three books by Priest under my belt now, one thing I’ve learned is that she is an incredibly versatile writer who seems to glide effortlessly into any kind of story or narrative style she decides to take on. Every novel I’ve read by her so far has been very different from each other. However, that also means not all her books are going to strike my fancy, as evidenced by my previous experiences, but I’m glad I decided to keep trying her work. The Family Plot came along and managed to hit every one of my buttons and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I would highly recommend it for anyone who loves stories about ghosts or haunted houses.
Oh yes I’m really happy to see you enjoyed it as much as I did. Love the atmosphere and all!
Yes! I loved it, which I had a feeling I would since I saw your review and I know we have similar tastes in horror 🙂
I totally love the idea about the house being its own character, with a personality and – from what I could gather – a very malicious disposition. Sometimes a house like this makes ghosts and evil spirits pale in comparison.
Great review, thanks for sharing! 🙂
Definitely, books like these make me rethink my love for old houses. I think they can be beautiful and full of history, but…don’t know if I want to ever find myself alone in them at night 🙂
MAPLECROFT was my first read with Ms. Priest and I really loved the dark vibe in it and how vivid it was. I’m really excited now to get my copy – sounds like a perfect Halloween read 🙂
Maplecroft was really interesting – I think she was channeling Lovecraft a bit with it, which maybe made it a little harder to read, but it definitely boosted the atmosphere!
Nice creepy cover
I do like it a lot.
Yep yep yep. This one was so good. I’ve not read Maplecroft although I always fancied it. I definitely like the look of her next novel Brimstone.
You should check out Maplecroft! I didn’t like it as much as The Family Plot, but it was certainly interesting and different. And I am looking forward to Brimstone as well!
Really was a cool haunted house story. So glad more and more people are reading it.
Yeah, I’m really glad I got a chance to check it out. Perfect for the Halloween season.
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I actually adored Maplecroft but I’m sort of a Lizzie Borden freak. I still haven’t read the second book in the duology though. Maybe you should give the Eden Moore series a try. It has ghosts in it if I remember correctly – it’s been a while since I read it as well. Priest is one of my favorite authors and thank heavens she has another book coming out in April. Wonder if there will be another Music City Salvage book?
Yep, Maplecroft would definitely a fun book for Lizzie Borden freaks 😀 I was initially drawn to it because of the Lovecraft angle, but I learned more than I ever wanted about Borden with it too, that’s for sure. I will give the Eden Moore series a look 🙂
I loved this too, and because it was my first book by the author, I’m eager to go back and pick up some of her other books. I really loved the descriptions of the house and how lovingly Dahlia takes apart the pieces:-)
I hope you do get a chance to try some of her older books, I feel everything I’ve read by her has been very different, so there’s definitely something for everyone!
Ooooh. Sounds like I should really hurry up and read this!
Yes, check it out! 😀
I’m really looking forward to this one, so I’m relieved to see you gave it such a high rating! (I’m totally with you on Boneshaker not inspiring me to pick up the rest of the series.)
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