The Family Game — Book Review

There is nothing quite like a fun psychological thriller that has you on the edge of your seat — and that’s exactly how I found myself the first week of November, while reading Catherine Steadman’s brand-new release, The Family Game. I finished this book in two days, and I would have much sooner if I had not needed to go back to work early the next day. While this book is full of suspense and mystery, it still has a layer of lightheartedness despite it being labeled a “thriller,” and in fact, I only chose it as my monthly read from my Book of the Month subscription, based on the book’s description and colorful design. The dark and spooky mansion on the cover made me think of the mansions you see in old movies and families from the early 1900s, and I immediately thought of a darker and modern version of Downton Abbey. It was not until I finished the novel and googled the author, that I realized she was in fact an actress from Season 5.

This page-turning suspense story centers around a writer, her fiancé, and her fiancé’s dark and mysterious family over the holiday season. The story focuses on the character of Harriet Reed, a writer whose latest book has become a bestseller. Her personal life is going just as successfully, as she has recently become engaged to the love of her life, Edward Holbeck, and they are expecting their first child. With the news of the upcoming engagement and baby, Edward slowly begins to introduce Harriet to his family, a family she knows little about, and per Edward, are difficult, controlling, and different from other families.

However, as Harriet soon discovers, becoming a Holbeck not only comes with uncomfortable situations, but dangerous ones, and as the holiday season arrives, Harriet is confronted with the challenge of meeting and spending quality time with Edward’s family- a famously private family known for their wealth, secrets, and power. As Harriet discovers, while they are well-known, many details of the family are still a mystery, as the Holbeck family does not simply let anyone into their inner circle.

However, it is much to Harriet’s surprise, that the Holbeck family appears nothing but friendly and welcoming upon meeting them, and soon, Harriet quickly finds herself drawn into their lavish world and getting a crash-course in all things Holbeck: their history, business, traditions, and of course, family games. And then, one evening after dinner, Robert Holbeck, the patriarch of the family, hands Harriet a cassette tape (yes, a cassette tape as finding a player is part of the adventure of the “game”), containing what he claims to be the main idea for a novel he is supposedly writing; however, Harriet is not so sure that he is telling the whole truth. Is the cassette tape a true confession to a murder? If not, and it is only a work of fiction, why would he be so secretive in sharing it with Harriet? As Harriet ventures out to investigate further, she becomes closer into the dangerous proximity of knowing the truth about her new family. If the tape is to be believed, Robert Holbeck knows how to make people disappear — and Harriet is playing a dangerous game with deadly consequences.

There is definitely a unique appeal to a story that unravels the dark secrets of families that seem to have it all, leaving it as a reminder to the rest of the world, that while you may have all the power and wealth, no amount of money can stop someone from escaping death — we are all mortal, a fact that allows the characters to seem relatable and a tangible to the reader, as characters’ picture-perfect exteriors and the messy lives hiding behind those facades are revealed to the outside world. It could be the little bit of voyeurism or the appeal of getting a glimpse into a writer’s fictional take on a world that feels far-removed from the reader, but The Family Game, is a book full of mystery that heightens the reader’s interest with each page. While there are many characters in this book, they each play a critical role to the story, in the same way each piece is crucial in a game of chess — each character plays a key role in the plot as they enter “the game.”

What makes this thriller even more interesting, is that it occurs takes place during the holidays — specifically, in the lead-up to Christmas — so if you’re a reader who likes to choose themed books for the holiday season, this will be a great contender!

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

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C.L. Reece

Writer/Poet, Lover of True Crime and Mystery, Travel, History Nerd, Personal Growth, Educator, Doctorate in Education, Follow me on instagram @piecesofclreece