Inspired by an episode of Salvage Dawgs — a reality series about people who make their living salvaging fixtures from old buildings — Cherie Priest’s latest standalone horror novel, The Family Plot, is a unique take on the traditional haunted house story.
In the book’s opening chapter, Dahlia Dutton and her father, Chuck, buy the exclusive rights to pick over the remains of the Withrow estate, a decaying Tennesse mansion slated for demolition in a few weeks’ time. Even they know the offer is too good to be true, but it’s the only thing standing between them and the foreclosure of their family salvage business.
While the house and its sordid family history are more or less what readers have come to expect, what makes The Family Plot different to other stories of its kind is its characters — in particular, its no-nonsense protagonist, Dahlia. As anyone who has ever seen a scary movie can attest, horror stories are often let down by writers’ over reliance on tropes like genre blindness, stripping their cast of common sense in order to further the plot. That’s why it’s refreshing to read about people who are not only aware of the danger they’re in, but who also make sensible, relatable decisions to protect themselves against it, even if this does inhibit the book’s scare potential at times.
Priest’s approach to characterisation is so simple that it’s a wonder more writers haven’t thought of it. By allowing Dahlia and her crew to accept the inevitable paranormal encounters as a part of the job, and to share information, and to work together to keep each other safe, she engages readers’ sympathy without triggering their disbelief.
“You have to be practical about these things,” Dahlia, who is no stranger to old houses or their ghosts, explains to newcomer Brad in one of the book’s most self-referential moments. She then goes on to point out what horror fans have always known: that running around in circles screaming and shouting never accomplishes anything.
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest is now available for pre-order and will be published on September 20, 2016.
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reading Copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.