1. The Family Upstairs – 4.5⭐️
Lisa Jewell is fast becoming one of my favourite authors of psychological thrillers! I listened to ‘The Family Upstairs’ on Audible, which was well narrated. I will, however, be buying hard copies to place on my beautiful bookshelves since these are books I would highly recommend to any thriller reader.
“Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.
She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighbourhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.
Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone. “
There is a split timeline and multi POVs which soon became easy to follow. As described in the synopsis above, Libby who is in the present day, has inherited a Chelsea mansion. She has never known the circumstances of her adoption. This is the basis of the dark story which unfolds.
A House with Secrets
The scene is set in a large, 8-bedroomed home in Chelsea. The house is atmospheric, almost gothic-like in my mind, which matches the disturbing events that take place within it. The guests that move in with the Lamb family soon start to dominate the home. What unfolds is creepy as hell! Just like any good thriller should be.
David (the antagonist) soon takes his place as leader of the pack and puts his spell on the home and everyone in it. The children are forbidden to leave the home, even for school. They become malnourished and what I can only describe as abused, in the form of neglect and psychological damage. But, don’t be put off by this or the mention of the word ‘cult’ since it was not as I had imagined. The book may be dark, but it is not ‘horror’.
I enjoyed the character of ‘Henry’ the most. He is on a downward spiral heading towards near-psychopathic behaviour and grows to hate David and Birdie (who rule the roost.) He is pained by his uncontrollable love for Phin which turns into obsession that I believe is caused by the lack of parental love and his feeling invisible. In places I felt sorry for him, in others… not so much! The author expertly gives Henry layer after layer of motivation for what ultimately happens.
I could write an essay on the other characters, especially David & Birdie and their twisted relationship, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so will leave it here. If you like suspenseful thrillers, give it a go!
The author writes in an engaging manner which is predominantly character-driven.
The book was very reminiscent of ‘Flowers in the Attic’ by V Andrews. A book I read in my teens and loved. It is full of dark suspense and I couldn’t put it down because the tension kept ramping up until it reached near breaking point. I needed to know if all the children made it out safely in the end. I was also rooting for the downfall of David and for somebody on the outside to please discover what was going on behind the closed doors of 16 Cheyne Walk.
It is rare for me to read two books by the same author in such quick succession, but after hearing that the follow-up book ‘The Family Remains’ was supposedly just as good, I downloaded it straight away.
2. The Family Remains – 5⭐️
LONDON. Early morning, June 2019: on the foreshore of the river Thames, a bag of bones is discovered. Human bones.
DCI Samuel Owusu is called to the scene and quickly sends the bag for forensic examination. The bones are those of a young woman, killed by a blow to the head many years ago.
Also inside the bag is a trail of clues, in particular the seeds of a rare tree which lead DCI Owusu back to a mansion in Chelsea where, nearly thirty years previously, three people lay dead in a kitchen, and a baby waited upstairs for someone to pick her up.
The clues point forward too to a brother and sister in Chicago searching for the only person who can make sense of their pasts.
Four deaths. An unsolved mystery. A family whose secrets can’t stay buried for ever …
What an excellent follow-up! Sometimes the second or third book in a series can be disappointing but not with this one. I have lowered my score to 4.5 stars on the first book, purely so that I can give 5 stars to this one! It could be read as a standalone book since any necessary details from the 1st book are expertly dripped in.
Lucy, Libby, Phin and Henry are back! We get so much more information about them with a jaw-dropping new storyline. They are out of the house and continuing with their lives, marred by the trauma of their childhood. Libby meets her birthmother, and a great relationship develops. Lucy has been surviving as a single mother with two children, busking and struggling to make ends meet until she and Libby reunite.
I loved the new character Rachel, who shares the same abusive ex-husband as Lucy. Their lives collide and a great subplot develops. There is one chapter which makes for tough reading where you learn of Rachel’s rape. Both this scene and Lucy’s encounter with the ex are a little disturbing
Henry’s obsession with Phin continues, sending him halfway around the world in pursuit of him, and his stalking becomes a little creepy. Henry has clear psychological damage from his childhood and his unpredictability only increases the tension.
There is added tension throughout the storyline as DC Owusu closes in on the Lamb family, who are trying to keep the secrets of their childhood hidden (for reasons I cannot explain). A body is discovered in the local river and Owusu is ied to investigate the events that happened at 16 Cheyne Walk.
A brilliant character-driven book which exceeded my expectations. It is expertly written and builds tension that makes this book unputdownable. I highly recommend this book, with or without having read ‘The Family Upstairs.’ Also, I highly recommend the audible version, as the narration was one of the best I’ve listened to.