Published by Tor Books on September 20th 2016
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest is a wonderfully atmospheric and chillingly gothic ghost story populated with well rounded characters, a particularly malevolent ghost and a house with a character all of its own. I loved this. It seriously gave me the goosebumps and, frankly (although I could be something of a wuss) scared me into not reading alone late at night,
I admit that this book just really worked for me. I probably can’t put my finger on exactly why but I just liked it as soon as I started to read.
We start the story with a deal being struck between a salvage operator and a property owner in the process of having her mansion demolished. Augusta Withrow inherited the family mansion. Not wishing to live there she is selling anything and everything that can be removed in order to benefit from the process. Chuck Dutton is the owner of a salvage company that has hit a crisis. The books are in the red and the promise of all the bounty sitting in the Withrow home is too good an offer to miss, even if it means going further into debt, this could be the golden egg that Chuck needs. With the promise of chestnut floors, beautiful banisters, original fireplaces and leaded windows this deal seems too good to be true but with his business on the line Chuck can’t afford to be picky when it comes to a few niggles at the back of his mind and so qualms aside he sends his daughter, Dahlia, in with a crew to bring home the goodies.
As soon as Dahlia and her team arrive something doesn’t feel quite right. The house is in a good condition, maybe a bit of a fixer upper, but certainly worth the effort for such an amazing property. So why demolish? And then, slowly and insidiously, little things start to occur. Nothing too alarming at first but things that with enough frequency gradually build the tension. Doors that shut themselves, what appears to be recent footprints in the dusty floor a handprint on an upstairs bannister as though somebody was watching their arrival from the upper floor. Things that can be reasonably explained away to the rational mind. That is until it seems all of the crew start to see things, glimpses of figures caught in the peripheral vision and then eventually ghosts that boldly stand looking up at the house. Then, to heighten the tension a graveyard is found in the grounds.
I won’t go further into the plot other than to say you can expect a dark and creepy ghost story to unfold when you pick this one up. I’m not sure whether this will bring anything startling new to the premise in one respect, particularly to hardened horror fans or people who regularly watch creepy movies, but for me it promised a dark and gothic story and it delivered exactly that.
Priest writes a story that reads so well. She delivers the right amount of detail to immerse you in the setting, her characters are well drawn, their back stories almost effortlessly develop as you progress and the story has excellent pace.
In terms of the characters Dahlia is very likeable. She has her work cut out for sure with this crew but she has such a straightforward, no nonsense attitude that really shows her experience. Her cousin Bobby makes up part of the team with his son Gabe. They might have known each other since being children but that doesn’t make them friends, too much history between these two and too much time spent by Bobby hitting the bottle hard ensure that they never really patch things up. The final member of the crew is a relative newbie called Brad. What really came across to me about Dahlia was this wonderful mix of realism mixed in with a more whimsical side to her nature that comes across in her love for old properties. She wants to restore them but failing that she treats them with care and respect.
I don’t have any criticisms. I thought this was a thoroughly entertaining story told by a talented author who rather expertly guided me from intrigue and curiosity to tension and fear. If you love a story that steadily ratchets up the tension until you’re sitting with the hairs standing up on the back of your neck then this could definitely be for you.