Halloween Reads: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest, The Family Plot, horror, ghost story, haunted house, book review

Okay, okay, now I wasn’t sure if it was such a good idea to start reading Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot in the middle of the night… but somehow I managed to survive!

I haven’t read a good old-fashioned horror story about a haunted house in ages so I was really keen to check out The Family Plot. Chuck Dutton is the owner of a salvage company on its last legs so he can’t believe his good luck when a mysterious old woman named Augusta Withrow walks into his office one day, offering him the rights to strip her old family estate and sell anything of value in it. It seems almost too good to be true, but if all goes according to plan, Chuck just might be able to save his family business after all.

Dahlia, Chuck’s newly divorced daughter, heads a small crew who plan to drive over to the Withrow estate and strip the house and accompanying carriage house of any parts worth salvaging for sale. To save time and money, they also decide to camp out in the house for the next few days while they work on it. (Can you see where this is going???). The house is a lovely old residence that could be worth saving and Dahlia wonders why Augusta is so eager to demolish it. But it’s not for her to wonder, it’s for her to salvage and save her dad’s business. Time is running out so she and her crew get to work right away.

But then strange things begin to happen. There are strange footprints in the dust that don’t belong to any of the crew. The workers begin to see sightings of various ghosts, including a woman in a yellow dress and a small boy. And there’s also something malevolent in the bathroom too which makes it really, really hard for anyone to take a shower after a long hard day of dusty work (always the bathroom!!). To top it off, they’ve just found a cemetery on the grounds…

I really enjoyed The Family Plot. I’m a massive Cherie Priest fan and I love the southern setting of her stories, both the steampunk and the ghostly ones. Also, this year, we’ve been watching a lot of lifestyle shows – you know the kind, featuring house flipping, renovations and salvage crews finding bargains in random garage sales and flea markets – so I was pretty psyched to find a ghost story featuring a salvage crew working on an old estate! That definitely added a twist of originality to the usual ghost story premise of a haunted house. I don’t know much about salvaging so it was fun reading the book and watching Dahlia and her crew go through the house, pulling out marble fireplaces and picking out what fixtures are valuable and what aren’t.

I was recently reading about an article about tips for writers writing horror stories. One tip was to make sure your protagonist is given a good reason for going where the scary bogeys are lurking. For example, in real life if you’re tucked up in your nice warm bed with the door locked and you hear a noise in the eerie woods outside, you don’t usually head out in the middle of the night to investigate. Uh-uh, no way! You stay safe in your locked room! But for some reason, the folks in horror stories and movies do just that and of course they walk straight into trouble! That’s what I love in this one scene where Dahlia wakes up and hears a noise upstairs. But she doesn’t investigate – oh no! – she stays put where she is safe. Smart girl! But it’s not til later when she hears another crew member go upstairs that she knows she has to go up and – gulp – rescue him!

The Family Plot definitely gave me everything I was hoping for in a good old-fashioned horror story. Toward the end of it, I was huddled up under the blankets in bed screaming at the book, “Don’t go back for the bourbon!!!!”

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