This book was reviewed for the San Francisco and Seattle Book Reviews
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest, is a classic ghost story reminiscent of The Turning of the Screw, and similar tales. Dahlia (love her name!) works with the family salvaging company. When old buildings are set to be torn down, they go through and clean it out of anything valuable. The Withrow estate was supposed to be a typical job- go in, snag the goodies, leave the husk for the wrecking crew.
Things start rough, with the location being remote and lacking paved access. Dahlia and her crew, consisting of cousins Bobby and Gabe, and recent hire Brad, decide to rough it, and camp out in the house. Well, ‘rough it’ is a loose phrase. Power and water have been temporarily restored, but this is still a house abandoned for decades. Things get creepy pretty fast, with odd shadows flitting just on the edge of vision, and doors opening and closing of their own accord. Various spectres are seen from a distance- a young boy, a soldier, a girl in a yellow dress. The longer they work, the more the house and its occupants waken. What secrets will the salvage crew’s work uncover?
This book is one I truly lost myself in. There was that fuzzy moment of transitioning from one real, in-depth world to another. Ghosts or no, I was thoroughly invested and didn’t like leaving. Though I’ve strayed far from my original schooling, I am still an archaeologist at heart, and fell in love with this old house and its lands. I loved the descriptions of the things the salvage crew found, especially the hearse carriage, and all the stained glass pieces. I loved the slow unraveling of the history of the house and the Withrow family. No wonder there were ghosts, with a past like that.
I liked the touch of the soundless concussion and whitening light when people would get their heads wet. It recalls a benign, yet terrifying, condition known as ‘exploding head’, which usually occurs when falling asleep or just waking, that oft involves a sharp explosive sound coinciding with a bright flash of light, yet there is no pain. I’ve had it happen several times. Check it out. Absolutely fascinating. I do wish more had been done with the pendulum. In the context of everything else, it seemed rather extraneous and unnecessary. I felt like it had been going somewhere and then was derailed. I would love to read a follow-up!
🎻🎻🎻🎻🎻 Highly recommended, especially if you love classic ghost stories, or movies like Session 9.