From Cherie Priest, author of the enormously successful Boneshaker, The Family Plot is a haunted house story for the ages—atmospheric, scary, and strange, with a modern gothic sensibility that’s every bit as fresh as it is frightening.
Music City Salvage is owned and operated by Chuck Dutton: master stripper of doomed historic properties and expert seller of all things old and crusty. Business is lean and times are tight, so he’s thrilled when the aged and esteemed Augusta Withrow appears in his office. She has a massive family estate to unload—lock, stock, and barrel. For a check and a handshake, it’s all his.
It’s a big check. It’s a firm handshake. And it’s enough of a gold mine that he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.
Dahlia and a small crew caravan down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the ancient Withrow house is waiting—and so is a barn, a carriage house, and a small, overgrown cemetery that Augusta Withrow left out of the paperwork.
Augusta Withrow left out a lot of things.
The property is in unusually great shape for a condemned building. It’s empty, but Dahlia and the crew quickly learn it is far from abandoned. There is still something in the Withrow mansion, something angry and lost, and this is its last chance to raise hell before the house is gone forever.
4/5 STARS. ****
Horror After Dark Review
THE FAMILY PLOT is the first I have read from author Cherie Priest, and I was very impressed with this take on the haunted house sub-genre, and the dark humor infused within it. The Music City Salvage Company is in the business of getting the rights to buildings that are about to be torn down. They go in, dismantle everything that could be sold as vintage or good quality, and in turn sell them to buyers looking for just such things to add to their own homes.
The company is in dire straights when Chuck Dutton, the owner, is approached by elderly Miss Augusta Withrow about purchasing salvage rights to the Old Withrow Estate. With vintage marble, great quality wood, fixtures, and stained glass–and that’s not counting the external buildings–it seems too good to be true.
“. . . the estate ends here. Believe me, it’s for the best.”
Despite any misgivings, it’s not a job they can afford to pass up. Led by Chuck’s daughter, Dahlia, a team of four is hastily put together and set out to begin the salvaging immediately.
“Worst case scenario, I’m wrong, we get lost, and we’re eaten by cannibal rednecks.”
The novel is told mainly from the point-of-view of Dahlia. I felt this was a good choice because she is the most complexcharacter that we learn about. That isn’t to say that we don’t get to know the others–we do–however, Dahlia has the most “emotional conflict” over dismantling beautiful old homes for profit. She certainly knows exactly what she’s doing, but a part of her longs to save these old homes and live in them, herself.
“. . . In all the years she’d been talking to houses, the houses never talked back.”
It did surprise me that the people that usually went on these salvage missions, also had an “awareness” of ghosts. There was none of the usual “ghosts don’t exist” excuses here, just a simple acceptance that when dealing with old properties, you’d have to be senseless to not expect some “remnants” occasionally. You get the feeling that most of this team have “seen it all”, and that is part of why this book stood out to me so much more.
“. . . I’m not too scared of ghosts, but I have a healthy respect for them. That’s just common sense . . .”
The atmosphere was set right from the start. As one of the most crucial ingredients for a horror story to possess, this is what really drew me in. There are all manner of . . . things . . . around this old mansion, and all of them are different. One, in particular, really “made” the story.
“. . . We can’t salvage ghosts. They don’t sell for shit.”
There was a lot of light-hearted comedy throughout to offset the more intense moments. However, none of the crew were left without misgivings. This place definitely had more activity than they routinely saw on their usual missions.
“. . . It was logical. The dead don’t care and the living needed the money . . . “
Perhaps sensing the attraction that this home had for Dahlia, the owner was quick to provide her with a simple warning.
“Beauty lies, dear . . . So do houses.”
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel for its plot, characters, and even the soon-to-be demolished mansion. There were all manner of supernatural activities there, that most tried to work around, but some of them were positively terrifying.
“. . . I hate this place . . . it scares the shit out of me . . . “
The only real criticism I have is that it was overly wordy when it came to some details. For instance, I don’t need an entire paragraph devoted to telling me about a key sliding into a lock, moving the tumblers, where it’s placed afterward, and the person patting it to make sure it’s still there.
For a haunted house story, it was a unique style for me, and one I really enjoyed. If trimmed down a bit, and given a little more background around the more malicious entities, this had the potential to be a five star book for me.
“. . . It’s none of our business, and not our problem.”
I’m looking forward to reading more books by this author in the near future.
About The Author
CHERIE PRIEST is the author of over a dozen novels, including the steampunk pulp adventures The Inexplicables, Ganymede, Dreadnought, Clementine, and Boneshaker. Boneshaker was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; it was a PNBA Award winner, and winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Cherie also wrote Bloodshot and Hellbent from Bantam Spectra; Fathom and the Eden Moore series from Tor; and three novellas published by Subterranean Press. In addition to all of the above, her first foray into George R. R. Martin’s superhero universe, Fort Freak (for which she wrote the interstitial mystery), debuted in the summer of 2011. Cherie’s short stories and nonfiction articles have appeared in such fine publications as Weird Tales, Publishers Weekly, and numerous anthologies. She lives in Chattanooga, TN, with her husband, a big shaggy dog, and a fat black cat.