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.
Button Man and the Murder Tree, The
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Not Flesh Nor Feathers
Wings to the Kingdom
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||692 KB|
About the Author
Cherie Priest debuted to great acclaim with Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, and Not Flesh Nor Feathers, a trilogy of Southern Gothic ghost stories featuring heroine Eden Moore. She is also the author of Fathom, Dreadnought, and Boneshaker, which was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo Award and won the PNBA Award and the Locus Award for best science-fiction novel. She is an associate editor at Subterranean Press. Born in Tampa, Florida, Priest went to college at Southern Adventist University and earned her master’s in rhetoric at the University of Tennessee. After spending most of her life in the southern United States, she recently moved to Seattle, Washington, with her husband, Aric, and a fat black cat named Spain.
Read an Excerpt
The Family Plot
By Cherie Priest
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Cherie Priest
All rights reserved.
"Yeah, send her on back. She has an appointment."
Chuck Dutton set aside the walkie-talkie and made a token effort to tidy his desk, in case Augusta Evelyn Sophia Withrow expected to speak with a goddamn professional. The owner and manager of Music City Salvage was every inch a goddamn professional, but he couldn't prove it by his office, which was littered with rusting light fixtures, crumbling bricks and broken statuary, old books covered in mildew, stray tools that should've been packed away, and a thousand assorted items that he was absolutely going to restore to life or toss one of these days when he got the time. His office was the company lint trap, and it was no one's fault but his own.
He successfully rearranged a stack of old license plates and stuffed all his pens into an I LOVE MY MASTIFF mug, just in time for his visitor to appear. She arrived in a faint cloud of expensive perfume: a tall, thin lady of a certain age and a certain pedigree. Her hair was silver and her dress was blue linen, something with a fancy label at the neck, unless Chuck missed his guess. Her handbag was large, square, and black — more of an attaché case than a purse.
She stood in the doorway, assessing the mess; then she bobbed her head, shrugged, and stepped over a nested stack of vintage oil cans that Chuck kept meaning to relocate.
Chuck darted out from behind his desk, hand extended for a greeting shake. "Kindly ignore the clutter, ma'am — like myself, this office is a work in progress. I'm Charles Dutton. We spoke on the phone, before you met with James."
"Yes, of course. It's a pleasure." She accepted his handshake, and, without giving him a chance to offer her a seat, she drew up the nearest chair — a Naugahyde number that had once sat in a mid-century dentist's lobby. "Thank you for seeing me. I'm sure you're very busy."
Chuck retreated to his original position, sat down, and leaned forward on his elbows. "Anytime, anytime," he said cheerily. "Projects like yours are what keep us busy."
"Good. Because one way or another, that old house is coming down. It can't be saved, or at least, I don't plan to save it. But there's plenty on the property worth keeping — as James saw firsthand last week."
"Yeah, he couldn't shut up about it. But this was your family home, wasn't it?" He already knew the answer. He'd looked it up online.
"That's correct. My great-grandfather built the main house in 1882. He gave it to my grandparents as a wedding present."
"And none of the other Withrows are interested in preserving it?"
"There are no other Withrows," she informed him. "I'm the last of them, and I don't want it. On the fifteenth of this month, the house will be demolished. By the first of November, all other remaining structures will be razed, and the property will be donated to the battlefield park. The paperwork is already filed."
"Still, it seems like a shame."
"Spoken like a man who never lived there," Ms. Withrow said, not quite under her breath. Then, more directly, "You mustn't cry for the Withrow house, Mr. Dutton. It's a miserable, drafty, oppressive old place with nothing but architectural details to recommend it. James made notes and took photos, but I have a few more, left over from the assessment when I inherited it last spring. If you'd care to take a look at them."
"I'd love to. He said you two talked numbers. I trust his judgment, but my finance guy balked when he heard forty grand, so I'm happy to see more of the details. I hear you've got imported marble fireplace inlays, stained glass, wainscoting ..."
In fact, Barry the Finance Guy had not balked; he'd put his foot down with a hard-ass no. The company was owed a small fortune in outstanding invoices, as least two of which were headed for court. Music City Salvage barely had enough cash on hand to keep the lights running and cover payroll — and if a windfall didn't come along soon, they'd have to pick between the two of them. There was absolutely no stray money for sweetheart deals on old estates.
Period. End of story.
Still, when Augusta Withrow unfastened her bag to withdraw a large folder, Chuck eagerly accepted it. She said, "As for the fireplaces, only two have Carrera inlays. The other five surrounds are tile, but all seven mantels are rosewood, and, as you can see, the grand staircase is chestnut."
"Mm ... chestnut ..." He opened the folder and ran his finger over the top photo. It showed a staircase that was very grand indeed, with a ninety-degree bend and a platform, plus sweeping rails that terminated in graceful coils. He positively leered. These pictures were a hell of a lot better than the ones James had snapped on his phone.
"I'm told that American chestnut is extinct now."
"It's been that way since the thirties," he agreed. "It's strong as oak at half the weight, and pretty as can be. Woodworkers love that stuff. It's worth ... well. It's very desirable, to the right kind of craftsman. I don't often see it in stairs, but I'll take it wherever I can get it."
"Then I should mention the barn, too. It's falling down, but I'm fairly certain it's made from the same wood."
"Mm." Chuck's eyes were full of rust lust and dollar signs. He kept them fixed upon the photos so Ms. Withrow couldn't see the greed and raise her asking price even further out of reach.
After the staircase, he found a shot of a large fireplace. It had a double-wide front, with a pair of ladies on either side — their poses mirroring one another in white and gray marble. He spied a few thin cracks, but nothing unexpected. All in all, the condition was better than good. He looked up. "James said something about a carriage house. Is that chestnut, too?"
"Only stone, I'm afraid. It has the original copper roof, but it's all gone green now. You know how it is — the weather gets to everything, eventually."
He glanced up in surprise. "No one's stripped it? No one sold it for scrap?"
"I don't know what kind of neighborhood you think we're talking about, Mr. Dutton, but ..."
"No, no. I didn't mean it like that." He shook his head and returned his attention to the folder. "I've been to Lookout Mountain before. I know it's a nice place. I wasn't trying to imply it was all et-up with meth heads, or anything like that. It's just something that happens. Over the years the metal goes manky, so people swap it out for cedar or asphalt shingles."
She didn't reply for long enough that he wondered what her silence meant.
Finally, she said, "You won't find any meth heads, no. But the house is just barely on the mountain proper. It's down toward the base, and some of the nearby neighborhoods are not as savory today as they were a hundred years ago."
"At the foot ... you mean down by the Incline station?"
"At the edge of Saint Elmo — that's right."
Chuck frowned. "I know that place; it's a historic district. Do you have the city's permission to bulldoze the property?"
"It's near Saint Elmo, not in it. I don't need the historic office's permission, and I assure you, all the appropriate legal steps have been taken. Now, did I mention that the floors are heart of pine, over an inch thick? Except in the kitchen, where they were replaced back in the sixties. My uncle was a very thorough man, with an unfortunate fondness for linoleum."
"A full inch of pine? Lady, you're speaking my language," he said, and immediately felt silly for it.
She grinned, unperturbed by his informality, and pleased to have redirected his attention. "Then you'll love this part, too: No one's been inside the barn or carriage house since before I was born. My grandfather boarded both of them up, and declared them off-limits. God only knows what you'll find once you get the doors open."
Chuck didn't dare speculate about her age — not out loud — so he asked questions instead. "Not even a groundskeeper's been inside? No maintenance people? Burglars?"
"I won't vouch for the delinquent youths of outer Chattanooga, but barring some unknown vandalism ... no. The house is isolated, and the property can be tricky to reach. You might need to throw down a gravel drive for heavy equipment or trailers. I assume you'll want to take the colonnades? The portico?"
He sorted through more promising photos.
Four columns held up the side porch ... he wondered if they were wood, or carved limestone. They weren't pre-war, but if they were stone, they were worth thousands. If they were only wood, they were still worth thousands, but not as many. He said, "I want to take it all."
"Then you'll need a forklift, at least."
"Good thing I've got one. Now, in these pictures, the house is still furnished. I assume all that's been cleared out by now?"
"Some of it. Some remains, but I won't kid you about its value. What's left is too cheap or too broken to pique the appraisers' interest. You can have it, if you like. I know your representative said you preferred to work piecemeal on projects like this, but my offer is all-inclusive. I don't have the time or energy to go through the place and put a price tag on every damn thing, if you'll pardon me for saying so. Anything, anywhere, on the four acres that make up the estate is yours for a check and a signature."
Yeah, but she wanted that check made out for forty thousand dollars.
It was the most Chuck had ever paid out for a salvage opportunity, by a long shot — and he was still waiting for Nashville Erections to come collect (and pay for) a haul they'd reserved three months ago. It probably served him right for tying up twenty grand in a company named for somebody's dick, but he knew they were good for it. Eventually. And T&H Construction still owed him for another thirteen grand's worth of room dividers, bay windows, and a turn-of-the-century door with sidelights and surrounds. Chuck had graciously let them take that batch on credit and a handshake, so it wasn't even on the floor anymore.
Because sometimes, Chuck was an idiot.
All right then, fine. Sometimes, Chuck was an idiot. But this was the haul of a lifetime, and it could skyrocket the company back into the black within a couple of months.
Or it could be the nail in its coffin in a couple of weeks.
But what a nail.
Cash was low — perilously low — but the stock at Music City Salvage was stagnant. Pickers hadn't brought in anything interesting in months, and a haul like the Withrow estate would be something worth advertising ... a landmark Southern estate, relatively untouched for generations. He could take out a full page in the paper. They'd have customers out the door, rain or shine; they'd come from hundreds of miles around. It'd happened before, but not lately.
The pictures sprawled across his desk, glossy and bright.
Ms. Withrow's offer wasn't too good to be true, but it felt too good to be true, and he couldn't put his finger on why. He was dying to whip out his checkbook and shout, "Shut up and take my money!" But something held him back ... something besides the fact that he didn't actually have enough dough sitting in the corporate account right that moment. In order to sufficiently fill 'er up, he'd have to take money against a credit card. Or two. Or all of them.
It'd be the biggest gamble of his life.
He looked up from the photos, at the woman who sat with her legs crossed just below the knee. She'd scarcely moved since she sat down. She did not look tense, or sinister, or deceitful. She looked like a fancy old lady with good taste who had one last piece of business to take care of before she retired to Florida or wherever fancy old ladies go when they're finished with Tennessee.
"Do you have any questions?" she gently prompted.
He closed the folder and rested his hands on top of it. "Just one, I guess. Why me? I know at least two salvage crews in Chattanooga who'd be thrilled by a haul this size. Why come all the way out to Nashville?"
"It's only a couple of hours' drive, Mr. Dutton — it's not the Oregon Trail. But since you asked, I visited them both first. Out of pure convenience, let me be clear — I don't mean to imply you're third string, or anything of the sort," she said smoothly, that highbred accent purring. "Scenic Salvage is closing this year; the owner is retiring, and she declined to pursue my offer. As for Antique Excavations ... well. Let's be honest. They don't have the supplies or the manpower for this job. They were, at least, direct enough to confess it."
"Judy Hanks told you no?"
"She's the one who suggested I try you. I understand you know one another."
They did, but it wasn't entirely friendly. He didn't really like her, and as far as he knew, the feeling was mutual. "Sure. I know her."
"She said you were an ass, but you ran a competent ship — and you'd have the resources to take care of an estate this size."
Ah. That was more like it. "Not a good ship?"
Augusta Withrow withdrew another folder from her bag. "You should settle for 'competent.' It's high praise, coming from her. High enough that I've already arranged the paperwork, based on the details James and I discussed — and I've brought it with me. None of this faxing or emailing nonsense. I prefer real ink to dry on real paper. I find it reassuring. So, Mr. Dutton?"
"Ms. Withrow," he stalled.
"Going once, going twice — forty thousand dollars, and you can pick over the remains of my family estate. Do we have a deal?"
He swallowed. He felt the fat stack of pictures beneath his hands. Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money, but the Withrow house was a gold mine. Maybe even a platinum mine, once he got that carriage house open. There was literally no telling what might be inside, if it'd been closed up for what ... seventy years? Eighty?
But, but, but.
But the company budget was so tight, it squeaked. But the stock was getting stale. But Barry would kill him, if for no other reason than if it didn't work ... he'd probably be out of a job. For that matter, they'd all be out of a job. The business would have to run on fumes until the Withrow estate started to sell. Paychecks might bounce. Lights might dim. Doors might close for good.
But, hell, in another year or two they might close anyway. A family business was a fragile thing, and Music City Salvage was on shaky legs.
But chestnut. But marble. But stained glass and built-ins and heart of pine. But the big locked box of the carriage house, and everything that might be waiting inside. The magical crapshoot of rust lust tugged at him harder than fear, harder than Barry would. Harder than caution, and harder than common sense, perhaps.
But what an opportunity. What a Hail Mary pass.
He stood up and reached for his coffee mug full of pens. While he rifled around for one that definitely worked, he declared, "Ms. Withrow, we've got a deal."
"Excellent! Shall we summon your finance fellow, for approval?"
"Nah. He works for me — not the other way around." Until the first paycheck bounced.
She rose to her feet, papers in hand. "You are the boss, after all."
"Damn right, I'm the boss." He took her papers and signed where indicated. He produced a checkbook, started writing, then postdated the check by several days. "I'll need to juggle some funds," he explained. "I hope that's all right."
"Juggle away. I'll sit on the check if you like, but you only have until the fifteenth to get the job done. That's when the wrecking ball arrives, and your time is up."
"Two weeks is good. We won't need half of that."
"I'm glad to hear it." Then, for the first time, she hesitated. "And I'm glad that the things which can be saved ... will be saved. I don't know. Maybe you're right, and maybe it's a shame to see the place go. Maybe I should've tried to find a buyer ... Maybe I should've ..." She looked at the folder on his desk, and the check in his hand. For a split second, Chuck thought she might tell him to tear it up — but she rallied instead. "No, it's done now. I'm done, and the estate ends here. Believe me, it's for the best."
Chuck handed over the check with two fingers.
Augusta Withrow traded it for a set of keys, and thanked him.
"No ma'am, thank you! And I promise we'll do our best to treat the old place with the respect it deserves."
Excerpted from The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. Copyright © 2016 Cherie Priest. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I haven't read a ghost story in a very long time. This was a such a great ghost story with some fabulous characters. Chuck has owned Music City Salvage for years, but now the company is hanging by a string...that is until one day when Mrs Withrow came in and offered her estate to be stripped for all it's valuables before it was demolished. She was willing to sell the estate to him for $40,0000.00. Chuck couldn't pass it up. He had to use all his money to purchase this property, but was hoping that they would get enough out of the house to fix their money problems. Being on a very shoe string budget, Chuck asks his daughter Dahlia to take the very few workers they have to go to this estate and strip it of all it's valuables. Dahlia and her nephew and a few other workers take on the task at hand, and this is when everything starts to fall apart. Day times seems to be just fine, but when the sun goes down strange things start happening in the Withrow Estate. Dahlia seems to think that the house is sometimes talking to her. Or at least responding to her. There is a door that only unlocks certain parts of the day or night. As, the crew starts to notice more and more weird and strange things happening they all come together and decide to sleep in the same room. The shower seems to be the most dangerous part of the house. There is so much to this story. I could keep going on, but I am afraid I will give everything away. I LOVE ghost stories. I love it even more when there are multiple ghosts. This has all of that. Good ones, bad ones, and just plain strange things are happening to this crew. I think if you enjoy a good ghost story you will really enjoy this one. The narrator was awesome, which made the story that much better. Source: I bought this book for myself to listen to. I was not compensated in any way for this review. These are my own PERSONAL thoughts on the book.
NUMBER OF HEARTS: 4 Another great and disturbing story from Ms. Priest. I am very happy that I picked up a copy of The Family Plot. I was not 100% sure what to expect when I started this book except for the fact that Ms. Priest will give us a great story. I really enjoyed not only the humans but the ghost too. After a bit of a slow start to the story the twists and turns that Ms. Priest put into this story kept me on the edge of my seat. And the ending!!! OMG!!! The ending!!!! If you are a fan of horror or ghost or Ms. Priest I would encourage you to pick up a copy of The Family Plot and find out why no one wants to live at the Withrow Estate. This was my first book narrated by Kate Udall. Ms. Udall did a good job with this story. I will be looking for more books narrated by her in the future. Disclaimer: I purchased this book from Audible.com this is my honest review. This review is my own opinion and not a paid review.
Recently divorced, Dahlia Dutton works with her dad, Chuck, in their family's struggling architectural deconstruction business, Music City Salvage. Her job revolves around stripping old houses of antique fixtures, rare wood floorboards or stained glass windows before demolition. She's great at what she does, even though she finds these old homes charming and would prefer to see them saved from the wrecking ball and restored to their former glory. When Chuck signs a contract with Augusta Withrow to professionally dismantle her family's estate, he assigns Dahlia and three crew members to tackle the job near the base of Lookout Mountain. Upon arrival at the isolated property, Dahlia feels like the house is speaking to her-- asking her to save it from its scheduled destruction. Reluctantly, she begins work, but upon seeing a flash of yellow amid some overgrown brush, she investigates. Dahlia uncovers a strange unmarked cemetery and shares her discovery with her co-workers. Soon she, and the other members of her crew, experience several strange spectral sightings. It seems the Withrow residence harbors more than one secret. No doubt about it, Cherie Priest is a master wordsmith. Her descriptions of Dahlia's late night forays into spooky spaces were delightfully creepy. I was also impressed by the vividness of her otherworldly characters. Priest does an exceptional job of building suspense and delivering scares. I read The Family Plot in three days because the action propels itself at such a vigorous pace; I simply didn't want to put it down. Compelling, frightening, and macabre, Priest's writing gives me chills reminiscent of those I felt when reading Edgar Allen Poe. Dahlia and her crew are believable characters who bicker and laugh together as any family might. I especially enjoyed her rocky relationship with her cousin Bobby and her obvious soft spot for his son Gabe. Their family dynamics ignite heated interactions that provide a welcome counterpoint from the unsettling paranormal activities. Priest packs a wallop from start to finish, and I recommend this tale of a haunted house to teens and adults who enjoy a good scare. For the exceptionally brave, I'd suggest reading it alone and after dark. The Withrow family home and its ethereal inhabitants are the stuff of nightmares etched indelibly in the dark recesses of my memory. The Family Plot promises chills and thrills and it definitely delivers.
Chuck Dutton built Music City Salvage with patience and expertise, stripping historic properties and reselling their bones. Inventory is running low, so he's thrilled when Augusta Withrow appears in his office offering salvage rights to her entire property. This could be a gold mine, so he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project. The crew finds a handful of surprises right away. Firstly, the place is in unexpectedly good shape. And then there's the cemetery, about thirty fallen and overgrown graves dating to the early 1900s, Augusta insists that the cemetery is just a fake, a Halloween prank, so the city gives the go-ahead, the bulldozer revs up, and it turns up human remains. Augusta says she doesn't know whose body it is or how many others might be present and refuses to answer any more questions. Then she stops answering the phone. But Dahlia's concerns about the corpse and Augusta's disappearance are overshadowed when she begins to realize that she and her crew are not alone, and they're not welcome at the Withrow estate. They have no idea how much danger they're in, but they're starting to get an idea. On the crew's third night in the house, a storm shuts down the only road to the property. The power goes out. Cell signals are iffy. There's nowhere to go and no one Dahlia can call for help, even if anyone would believe that she and her crew are being stalked by a murderous phantom. Something at the Withrow mansion is angry and lost, and this is its last chance to raise hell before the house is gone forever. And it seems to be seeking permanent company. The Family Plot is a haunted house story for the ages-atmospheric, scary, and strange, with a modern gothic sensibility to keep it fresh and interesting-from Cherie Priest, a modern master of supernatural fiction. Review: I love a good ghost story and this is definitely one of them. I have been wanting to read this Author for a long time and when this book came up on Netgalley I was hoping I would get the chance to review it. The story and writing did not disappoint. I was waiting for every bump in the night not knowing what to expect next. The story and it's characters really drew me in. It starts out that the Dutton's are close to losing their salvage company and take this "too good to be true" chance to turn the business around. Cousins Dahlia, Bobbie, Gabe and co-worker Brad go to salvage whatever they can from the Withrow estate. Almost as soon as they get there things get creepy, scary and dangerous. Very gothic feel to this story. I came to care and worry about the characters. Dahlia is in charge and is still nursing a broken heart from her ex and from Bobbie who sided with her ex. Gabe is just this lovable, young kid who wants to be treated as an adult but comes off so innocent. Brad comes off as this hipster not sure what he wants to do with his life. Bobbie to me is probably the most difficult to understand and complex, at least to me. One last thing I am going to say is that the ending had me guessing if there will be more from Dahlia and the guys....I hope so! Perfect creepy way to end the book. 4.5Stars *I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
I wouldn't typically seek out a straight up haunted house story like this, except it was written by Cherie Priest. I'm a fan of her Clockwork Century series and I knew this would be good. She strikes just the right note of HGTV spiced up with a little Southern Gothic mystery and charm. The story begins, as it should, with an innocent enough situation. An proposal is offered to salvage the fixtures of an old family home. Questions should be asked, but aren't. A decision is made in haste. The need is too great to be postponed. The offer has too much upside potential to worry too much about the downside. Besides, it's just an old house. What could go wrong? At first, everything seems to go well. There are only minor obstacles to overcome. But the story is still interesting enough to keep the pages turning. Then the mysteries start piling up. Standard haunted house stuff. Is the house itself trying to communicate? Was there another presence in the attic, in the woods? Is that a graveyard where one was not expected? What's the deal with this family? This could have been a stereotypical story of incompetents who are completely unaware that they might be dealing with the paranormal before it's too late and it completely consumes them. Or the reader could have been inflicted with characters so obsessed with the paranormal that it warps their perception of even normal events, turning them into screaming idiots jumping at every unexpected noise. Instead, the author creates a much more interesting world of competent, fairly intelligent human beings who talk to each other, consider the evidence, investigate the situation and react fairly reasonably. It makes sense that the team decides to stick with the job, despite the growing evidence of the weird. They need the money and things are manageable. Until they aren't. This is a good book for anyone interested in old houses and old Southern families. Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.