The Family Remains
Early one morning on the shore of the Thames, DCI Samuel Owusu is called to the scene of a gruesome discovery. When Owusu sends the evidence for examination, he learns the bones are connected to a cold case that left three people dead on the kitchen floor in a Chelsea mansion thirty years ago.
Rachel Rimmer has also received a shock—news that her husband, Michael, has been found dead in the cellar of his house in France. All signs point to an intruder, and the French police need her to come urgently to answer questions about Michael and his past that she very much doesn’t want to answer.
As they all race to discover answers to these convoluted mysteries, they will come to find that they’re connected in ways they could have never imagined.
Dabney and Maggie are both fans of Lisa Jewell’s writing and are here to discuss her new book, The Family Remains.
Maggie: The back blurb describes The Family Remains as a stand-alone sequel but I have to admit that I didn’t feel that way. (It’s a sequel to The Family Upstairs.) Knowing who most of these characters are and their backstory really makes a difference in how you read the tale. What do you think? Did this work as a standalone?
Dabney: Well… I didn’t realize until I finished it that it was a sequel, of sorts. And I loved it! So I think, if you don’t know better, it works just fine as a standalone. That said, I suspect having read The Family Upstairs might have made for a richer reading experience. Was that the case for you?
Maggie: Yes.I think otherwise some of the behaviors/events would have seemed odd or downright inexplicable.
How would you describe these characters just based on what you learned in this text?
Dabney: It’s true that Lucy, Henry, and Phin were all very mysterious for the first part of the book. But as someone who reads a ton of mysteries, I found that to be normal. My take was that they all had secrets I’d discover as I read which did indeed happen.
Maggie. I think that’s a good take on it, though I would argue that in the first novel, which was more of a psychological thriller/gothic than a mystery, they all had much deeper, darker edges to them. Henry especially seemed less somehow; the Henry of the The Family Remains appears almost incapable of doing what the Henry of The Family Upstairs did. I’d also argue that there is no real mystery at the start of the novel for those of us who read that first volume. We know what happened to whom and why.
On another note, let’s talk about the characters unique to this tale. I thought Marco was what Henry would have been if it weren’t for Henry’s horrific childhood and I absolutely loved him. Normally, youngsters that savvy drive me crazy but he was great. Rachel is another “newcomer” and I found her tale riveting. She’s so strong, resilient, and positive. A Lucy without all the darkness that has defined that woman’s life. What did you think of them?
Dabney: I really enjoyed Rachel’s story – Jewel makes her actions both sympathetic and understandable. Rachel’s able to overcome her bad choices in a way that Lucy struggles to do. I liked seeing how their stories were different and yet similar. Marco was a great kid – believable and able to help his mom in interesting ways. I loved his friendship with Alf – my age group loves to bemoan how the young use technology. It was fun to see the two boys harness that power for good!
Maggie: In fairness, the struggles that Lucy had to deal with in book one – which are only alluded to in much of this book – were far more severe than Rachel’s. I loved that both women had the strength to endure and move on. How would you describe the story (mystery/gothic/suspense/general fiction) and what would you say is the driving factor in it?
Dabney: I would say it’s suspenseful but not intensely so. It’s more an explanation of a stressful time rather than a real time thriller. I liked that about it. Like good mysteries–really like all good fiction – The Family Remains shows you the why behind people’s actions. Everyone in the book behaved in ways that were true to the characters (IN THIS BOOK) were written. I hate books where people act in ways that make no sense in the context of their stories!
Maggie: I would agree with your depiction of the story as more mystery than thriller. I do struggle with the question of the behaviors being true to the characters because I have that back story from the first novel and they don’t seem quite like the people in that book.
One factor that moves this story more towards a whodunit style narrative is the police investigation led by DI Samuel Owosu. I absolutely loved his character and thought he was everything a thorough, dedicated, compassionate officer of the law should be. And I enjoyed watching that investigation unfold knowing what I knew from The Family Upstairs and wondering if he would truly be able to unpack the complex mess behind Birdie’s murder. What did you think of him and that aspect of the tale?
Dabney: It really sounds as if we read two different books! I’ve thought about going back and reading The Family Upstairs – I’m a Jewel fan and it’s one of the few of hers I’ve not read–but since I know how it turned out, I’m not sure it’s worth it.
I like Owosu. He reminds me somewhat of Aaron Falk, the detective in Jane Harper’s compelling mysteries set in Southern Australia–he’s laconic enough to be dryly amusing and smart enough to be fun to follow his investigations. Plus he has his own sense of honor which makes the choices he makes thoughtful and not necessarily predictable. I had faith he’d figure it out!
Maggie: I’m so excited that Aaron Falk book three comes out in January! It’s interesting that you mention your qualms about going back to read The Family Upstairs because I’ve wondered whether these are books that can be read backwards and I just don’t know. There was so much I loved about that first volume but knowing what happens may indeed take all the suspense out of it. I would really recommend that readers that have a chance to do so start with the first book.
Phinn is the impetus for much of our tale – the search for him is the primary driving factor of this particular story – but I don’t want to say too much about him because of how impactful that plotline is to this narrative. I knew Phinn, what had happened to him, and why everyone was so freaked out that Henry was going after him. I understood Lucy’s urgency when she chased after her brother. As a fresh pair of eyes, so to speak, to that dynamic what did you make of that portion of the tale and Lucy and Henry’s actions?
Dabney: The Phinn story seemed like a stalker story to me because, I realize, I didn’t have the background. It made Henry creepy. Even by the book’s end, that storyline was my least favorite although I loved the way Marco played into that.
Maggie: The Phinn story is a stalker story, even with the background. Overall, I think those who have read The Family Upstairs will be happy to read this just to have some additional closure for the characters in that volume. There is a bit of rewriting history here – Henry especially went from being chilling to simply being a man from a desperate situation – but the tale is enjoyable and DI Sam and Rachel are both compelling characters who make The Family Remains well worth a read. I would give this a B+: It’s a solid story with some interesting mystery angles to it. It does, however, lack the dark, eerie edge of the first book.
Dabney: I’d give it a B+/A-. I really enjoyed unfurling the plot. I suspect that had I read The Family Upstairs, I’d still have liked it this much but I’d have had a different experience. So I think it’s a win for those who’ve read the first book and those who’ve not.
Thanks for chatting with me Maggie. Always a pleasure.
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