I hail from the deep South, where crickets and frogs sing the soundtrack of the night, and oak trees blanketed in Spanish moss form vaulted ceilings over roads made of dirt, and everyone knows a good ghost story or two. As the product of wild swamplands known to locals as “the boonies,” you could say I have a habit of letting my imagination get the better of me, especially after long childhood nights spent in the dark with friends, swapping spooky stories and urban legends. Nothing get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up like a good ghost story—especially if it’s one of those tales that might be a little bit true.
Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot certainly does the trick. The beginning seems is innocuous enough—divorcee Dahlia Dutton is tasked by her father to run a job salvaging architectural artifacts from the aging Withrow estate in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s a big ask, and Dahlia’s father has used every penny of the family business to purchase the property in hopes it houses spoils enough to save the ailing concern. But when Dahlia arrives on the property with her obnoxious cousin Bobby, his son Gabe, and another employee, she starts to wonder why Augusta Withrow, the last of the Withrows, wants the beautiful mansion torn down in the first place.
Dahlia wanders through the beautiful old manse, surveying the treasures that lie within, falling in love with the house that reminds her of the one she’d restored with her ex-husband, and falling into her habit of talking to herself. And that’s when the house begins to talk back.
Have you ever had one of those nights when, home alone, you decide to take a shower, and no sooner have you undressed and stepped into the spray that you hear a noise outside of the bathroom door? At first you think it’s the cat, until you see her sprawled on the bathmat. You tentatively call your roommate’s name, but you get no answer. There’s still soap in your hair, and you still need to wash your face, but there’s no way you’re going to close your eyes now! Not with an unseen monster lying in wait.
Dahlia and her crew have a problem with the showers, but it’s much scarier than that. Though they post guards on the bathroom doors, no one is safe, especially Dahlia, who seems to be the main target of an vengeful spirit. (I guarantee this book will make you think twice about your nightly bathing regimen.)
A ghost story lives or dies on its creep factor, and Priest absolutely nails it, spinning a Southern Gothic tale of family secrets and avenging spirits with just enough humor sprinkled throughout to break the tension before racheting the suspense back up to heart-pounding levels. And what’s a good ghost story without a creepy finale that leaves enough questions unanswered to leave you hanging in the best way? Read it, and get used to morning showers and sleeping with the lights on.