Brand new review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

By Ekta R. Garg

November 6, 2019

Genre: Mystery

Release date: November 5, 2019

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A woman, adopted at a young age, finds out the truth about her identity and receives an inheritance all at the same time. As she digs deeper into her past, however, she begins to realize that its secrets are darker than she could have ever imagined. Author Lisa Jewell returns with her latest thriller that will keep readers guessing until the end but leave them hanging in her new novel The Family Upstairs.

On her 25th birthday, a letter arrives on Libby Jones’s doorstep. She’s been waiting for it her entire life, because it contains key pieces of herself. Libby was adopted as a toddler and has no idea who her birth parents were, except for the fact that they died and that she was to come into an inheritance on this birthday.

The letter contains facts that make Libby dizzy: her birth parents have left her a house. An entire house. And it’s not just a ramshackle dump. The house stands in Chelsea, one of London’s hippest neighborhoods. Even without seeing the property, Libby knows she’s just inherited millions.

Then Libby does an internet search on her birth parents, Martina and Henry Lamb, and the result shocks her. Apparently Martina and Henry died in some sort of suicide pact along with a third unidentified adult. When police answered an anonymous call about strange activity at the Chelsea mansion, they found the three adults dead in the kitchen downstairs and Libby, gurgling and cooing away, upstairs in a crib. Other children had been reported living at the house, but the police don’t find any of them.

The information makes Libby uneasy. When she goes to the house, she meets a local journalist who reported on the story and has his own theories about what happened. Between the two of them, they begin teasing out the possibilities of the past. The harder they work on finding more information, however, the more Libby wonders whether she really wants it. Each secret uncovered reveals another one waiting, and none of them are pleasant in the least.

Author Lisa Jewell layers the book with three points of view: Libby’s as she researches and visits the house; Lucy, a single mother in Nice, France, struggling to keep her children safe as she earns money playing her fiddle on the streets of the city; and Henry, son of the Lambs. Lucy and Libby’s stories progress through the present day. Henry provides all the background information on what occurred in the Lamb house while he was growing up and before his parents’ death.

While the approach is interesting, readers may likely find themselves more drawn to Henry. His story contains all the salacious details from the past that lead up to the death of the Lambs and the third person with them in the kitchen. Yet he has nothing to contribute to the present-day story: Libby’s discovery of her identity. By contrast, Libby’s story, on the mechanical level, is the most mundane. She finds out about her inheritance and then researches her past. In reality, not much more than that happens until a small climactic point late in the book. Even that feels like a major letdown, because not much comes of it.

Lucy’s story falls somewhere in the middle. It occurs during the present day and also possesses movement and conflict. Lucy wants to return to her home country of England, yet circumstances prevent her from doing so. While Jewell works hard at masking Lucy’s connection to Libby and Henry, readers will figure out who she is long before the book offers the “big reveal.” Even that comes across as anti-climactic.

The book starts picking up steam right at the end, but then it’s over. Readers may feel confused more than anything else. Why did the closing chapters need such a long, drawn-out buildup? And what happens next? Readers will be left wondering too much.

Fans of Lisa Jewell may enjoy this one, and for those who like books about complicated family situations that personify dysfunction this is a solid read. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow The Family Upstairs.

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