I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
Published by Tor Books on September 20 2016
Genres: Adult, Horror
The nitty-gritty: An eerie and heart-stopping ghost story, with unexpected depth. If you love haunted house stories, and especially if you love old houses, you won’t want to miss this one.
She took the stairs slower than she could have, stalling the inevitable every step of the way. She didn’t want to let them in. She didn’t want to start work on the Withrow house. This wasn’t some favor she was doing for an old friend; this wasn’t a restoration gig to preserve a landmark. This was a vivisection, a slow slaughter of a thing on its last legs.
I can’t believe this is my first Cherie Priest novel! I even own copies of Boneshaker, Maplecroft, and Chapelwood, which I fully intend to go back and read as soon as possible. The Family Plot was a breath of fresh air, a haunted house story that was so much more. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I finished with a sense of giddiness that I had just discovered a favorite new author. There are plenty of chills and scary moments in this story that made me jump out of my seat, but Priest also delivers a tale full of complex relationships and family ties. The main character, Dahlia Dutton, works for her family’s salvage company, and so the story was full of delightful details about antique plumbing and lighting fixtures, lead glass transoms, and the joy of finding intact chestnut floor boards. Priest takes great care in showing the love and respect the characters have for old homes and gives a fascinating glimpse into the world of salvaging.
But of course, this is first and foremost a haunted house story, and I’m happy to say the pacing and tension are excellent. Chuck Dutton owns Music City Salvage, a company that buys and sells old house fixtures and furnishings. but unfortunately, the company is nearly bankrupt. When Augusta Withrow walks into his office one day and offers Chuck the deal of a lifetime, he knows it’s his last chance to bring the business back to its former robust state. Augusta wants forty thousand dollars for anything Chuck and his crew can drag out of the Withrow house, her family estate. The house and surrounding buildings are about to be torn down by the city, but Chuck knows the house, which was built in 1882, is bound to be a veritable gold mine. He’s sure he can at least quadruple his investment, and so he agrees to the deal, even though he’s barely got enough money in the bank.
Chuck puts his daughter Dahlia in charge of the salvage operation, and sends his nephew Bobby and Bobby’s son Gabe along to help out. The crew has only four days to complete the salvage, and in order to save time and money, they decide to camp out in the house while they’re working. Right away, Dahlia senses an otherworldly presence in the house, and not long after they arrive, she sees a wisp of a girl in a yellow dress, who disappears right in front of her eyes. When Dahlia discovers an old photo album in the attic, she spots the photo of the girl in the yellow dress. Little by little, the pieces of the Withrow ancestors’ lives start coming together, and a terrifying picture of what happened to Abigail begins to appear. It’s a race against the clock as Dahlia and her crew try to finish the salvage, but with the storm of the century bearing down on them and an angry ghost making physical threats, Dahlia simply wants to survive this job and go home.
I have to give a shout-out to Dahlia as a character, because I adored her. The story takes place in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it’s full of Southern slang and charm. Dahlia is a take-no-shit kind of woman in her late thirties. She’s been salvaging for a long time and really knows the business, so it was fun to see her enter the Withrow house for the first time and immediately sense the historical and economic value of the house and its contents. She’s also the boss of the operation, and she has to contend with three men, some of who want nothing to do with her and her bossiness, but she handles them pretty well, even Bobby, a man she’s known since childhood and isn’t on great terms with when this story takes place. Dahlia’s been recently divorced from her ex Andy, and she bears a grudge against him because part of the divorce agreement was that they had to sell their old house—a house Dahlia was in love with—and split the profits. This has left her feeling bitter against Andy and especially Bobby, his best friend.
As for the other characters, I liked Bobby the best. Even though he’s a drunk and seems to hate Dahlia, once he gets to the house and sees his first ghost, I began to sympathize more with him. The other character that really stood out for me was one of the Withrow ghosts, a mild-mannered woman named Hazel who ends up protecting Dahlia against the wrath of the terrifying and dangerous Abigail.
What I liked about this ghost story is that we know right up front that yes, there are ghosts, and the characters acknowledge this fact almost from the start. There’s no “is it real or not?” about it. Dahlia’s been in enough old homes to see her share of spirits, and the ones that reside in the Withrow estate are just par for the course. Priest captures the eeriness of the haunted house story beautifully, and the fact that she’s got an old Victorian home to work with certainly doesn’t hurt. The flickering electricity, the dark shadows on the stair landing, dusty footprints on the floor boards, and the vague shapes of shadowy figures flitting by all add up to an atmosphere of unease, and Priest’s lovely prose creates a sinister feeling that had my heart racing throughout the story.
Priest sets the stakes high for her characters. By the second day they are scared to death and want nothing more than to abandon the house and head home to safety. But unfortunately, they can’t. Chuck’s invested the last of his money into the house, and it’s up to Dahlia to keep the salvage going, ghosts or no ghosts. What could have been nothing more than your standard haunted house story becomes something much more. Dahlia’s love of old homes shines through, and her sadness at such a grand old estate being torn apart, board by board, is heartbreaking. I’d like to think that the ghosts are just as sad as she is.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.