The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
Basia rates it: 4/5 stars
The Family Plot is the story of Music City Salvage, a family-run business granted salvage rights to an old property. The man who runs the salvage company sends his daughter as the head of the project, and she and their crack team–featuring her cousin, with whom she does not get along; her nephew, a little green but eager to help; and Brad, the only non-family member and who means well but is largely clueless when it comes to manual labor–set out to tackle the extensive property and hope to pull in enough money with the haul to save the dying Music City Salvage.
You know the story, the classic line: they are not alone. Unsurprisingly, the estate is haunted. But there are several other twists and turns that this novel provides: a cemetery on the property they are assured is a leftover Halloween decoration–until they uncover some old bones that are decidedly real; a room with a door that opens and closes seemingly of its own free will; something lurking in the bathroom, waiting to strike the moment you close your eyes; and a family with a plethora of deep, dark secrets and–pun intended–more than a few skeletons in its closet.
I’m a big ghost story buff. For as long as I can remember, I’ve sought out tales of the spooky (I was going to use another word here–it begins with p–but then I realized that’s now the title of a published book and I don’t need to be sued). I watch ghost hunting shows, shows where people talk about their ghostly experiences, all sorts of horror movies. I devour scary stories like it’s my job. So when I heard that Cherie Priest, a favorite author of mine since I first picked up Boneshaker as a sophomore in high school, was writing a ghost story, I knew had to get my hands on it.
That being said, it takes a lot to scare me.
The Family Plot, I want to be clear, did not scare me, although I think I might be in the minority. I frequently saw readers on Twitter and Instagram saying that the book frightened them if they read it too late at night or if they were home alone, that this wasn’t a book to be read in the dark. But just because this didn’t instill that same fear in me doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy this book immensely. It is everything a good ghost story should be: haunting and atmospheric, enigmatic and strange, poignant and, perhaps most importantly, a little sad. This is a ghost story for the modern age, and it is a novel that relies on the intelligence of its reader. This is not a narrative for those interested merely in jump scares but is a novel for those of you who, like me, love getting to the heart of a ghost story: all of the ins and outs, uncovering the dark secrets their keepers thought long buried. It remembers that its readers are smart, and I appreciate it all the more for that.
The one point that threw me was that the characters are so accepting of finding ghosts in the house–they almost expect them. It’s a surprising but refreshing change from the usual tale, where half the narrative is consumed with the protagonist(s) staunchly denying any supernatural goings-on, even while mirrors show their reflections with bleeding eyes and spirits carve warning messages on the ceiling. Doing away with that nonsense allows Priest to get right to the center of the story, plunging you in headfirst. From the first moment you learn about the Withrow mansion, you need no convincing: here, there be ghosts.