Be careful who you let in.
Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from her job designing kitchens. She has received a letter she’s been waiting for her entire life and is confident she is finally going to know who she is.
Libby soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but that she has inherited their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood. The home is worth millions and everything in Libby’s life is about to change.
What she doesn’t know is that others have been waiting for this day. as well. And she is on a collision course to meet them and find out how their lives intersect.
Twenty-five years ago, the police were summoned to 16 Cheyne Walk after receiving reports of a baby crying. There, they found a healthy, well-cared-for ten-month-old girl happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. But downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies — two men and a woman — dressed in black robes. And a hastily scrawled note. The other four other children who lived in the home had vanished.
What happened in that house all those years ago is revealed as the dark secrets of three entangled families living in a single house come to light.
Best-selling author Lisa Jewell delivers an atmospheric, dark, and disturbing thriller about menacing power, decades-old secrets, guilt, and one woman’s desire to understand her own history and get to know the family she never realized existed.
As The Family Upstairs opens, Libby, who was adopted when she was ten months old, receives a letter she has known would be en route to her when she reached her twenty-fifth birthday. And she learns that she has inherited the house that belonged to her parents. She learns that her once-wealthy parents died on the kitchen floor of the home, along with an unidentified man, with whom they entered into a suicide pact. She was born into a cult, and had an older brother and sister whose whereabouts have remained a mystery for the past quarter century. The run-down house is boarded up and largely uninhabitable, but still valuable. Lucy enlists the assistance of Miller Roe, the reporter who penned the article that provides her first glimpse into her family history. Miller was never able to find all of the answers he sought, becoming so obsessed with the story that his marriage fell apart. “I was literally a research zombie,” he explains. “IT was all I talked about, all I thought about.” Now that he has connected with “the baby,” who was known then as Serenity Lamb, he is eager to resume the search — and for redemption.
She’d always known that the only thing that would bring her back to London, to this place where so many terrible things had happened, was the baby.”
Meanwhile, in Nice, Lucy, a musician, her young children, and dog have been rendered homeless. “She is so tired. She has traveled so far. Her life has been so long and so hard and nothing has ever, ever been easy. Nort for one second. She has made terrible decisions and ended up in bad places with bad people. She is, as she has so often felt, a ghost, the merest outline of a person who might one day have existed but has been erased by life.” Lucy is desperate and must find a way to provide for her son and daughter, even if it means returning to the abusive husband she left ten years ago. What she is willing to do to survive is nothing short of shocking. Lucy may well be the most complex and heartbreaking of Jewell’s characters.
Via a first-person narrative, a man named Henry relates the story of his childhood.
Jewell expertly employs the three alternating narratives to weave a haunting, noir-like mystery. Who was the mystery man whose body was found in the kitchen with those of Libby’s parents? What became of her older brother and sister — are they dead or alive? What happened to her parents’ fortune? And why do the doors on the bedroom doors in the house lock from the exterior (hallway) side? Henry relates how his seemingly normal childhood was gradually transformed when another couple and their two children, Phin and Clemency, arrived and took up residence in his parents’ house. He notes that, with the benefit of hindsight, he can “see exactly the tipping points, the pivots upon which fate twisted and turned, upon which the storyline warped so hideously.”
To learn precisely what happened at 16 Cheyne Walk all those years ago, Libby and Miller follow a series of clues that lead them to people who experienced those “tipping points,” along with Henry. What they don’t realize — and Jewell skillfully reveals at deftly-plotted intervals — is that others who know what happened in that house have been waiting for “the baby” to grow up and on the occasion of her twenty-fifth birthday, they are on their way back. Will there be a reunion of sorts?
The Family Upstairs is a dark, sinister story about manipulation and abuse, and the impact upon the victims. It is a tale of betrayal, abandonment, and disappointment. It is a study of the unique ways individuals react to extreme circumstances and events, and the lifelong impact upon the damaged survivors. It is a compelling mystery, full of unexpected twists and turns, populated by a cast of intriguing, surprising characters, many of whom are severely flawed and, in some cases, nothing short of maniacal. At the heart of the story is Libby, an earnest, hard-working young woman who just wants to know her family’s history. But Libby cannot imagine or predict how disturbing the truth actually is, much less how discovering it might put her in danger. Readers will find themselves haunted by Jewell’s jaw-dropping conclusion.
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