The Family Plot
by Cherie Priest
Tor, $25.99, 365pp
Pub date: Sep 2016
This is a solid little ghost story set in Tennessee. Dahlia works for her father’s salvage company, finding old homes set to be demolished and taking away everything possible for resale. They find an amazingly beautiful old home with enough goodies in the chestnut wood walls and floors, stained glass and original fixtures to put the shaky company back in the black for several months. But the owner gives them less than a week to complete the job before the bulldozers arrive. Chuck sends Dahlia along with a crew and a couple trucks, confident that she’ll be able to finish the job on time.
Dahlia falls in love with the house at first sight; it is a puzzle to her why the old woman wants to demolish such a beautiful home that could easily be restored. But the opportunity to recover such amazing wood and glass did tend to restore a healthy amount of greed. Dahlia was first inside the house a personal ritual to introduce herself to the house. She wasn’t in the house more than a few minutes when the first ….event happened. She shrugged off the front door locking itself as the wind and an old lock. But a short stroll around the grounds caused her some consternation when she glimpsed what looked like a young girl in a yellow dress…but found no one when she ran closer.
Things get weirder when one of the crew sees a young man in a WWI uniform standing in the woods, and one of the bedrooms is locked and resists all efforts to open. But the worst horror is in the bathroom to the point that they have to employ a ‘buddy’ system to stay safe. Dahlia eventually realizes that she is being particularly targeted probably due to her unresolved issues with her ex-husband. Dahlia also figures out that there is someone else in the house, someone who is acting as a protector for Dahlia. And while it would seem to be the better part of common sense to just leave, the real world issues of keeping the company solvent takes precedent.
This mystery/ghost story builds solidly but slowly. I liked the characters a lot, she spent a decent amount of time on each of the crew so that we had a good image of each of them. Dahlia slowly uncovered details about the family that lived in the house which kept my interest. There is, of course, a nasty life-threatening event that would seem to precipitate the climax but didn’t the reader and Dahlia are left with questions. And it might be because I’m not really a ghost story-type reader that I was unhappy with the ending but I thought it was a bit of a cheat. But don’t let that stop you from picking up this book; Priest is a very competent storyteller and you might love the ending. ~~ Catherine Book
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