Book Review: The Family Upstairs


Be careful who you let in.

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 neighborhood, 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.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.


Lisa Jewell’s seventeenth novel, “The Family Upstairs” was a lot to take in.  From the novel’s prologue up until the final chapter, I couldn’t put the book down.  It urges you to flip one more page until you find yourself a page left before the Acknowledgments.  Having read the book’s final lines, I found myself having to deal with the aftermath of emotional reverberations.

Lined with a gripping storyline, seared with Gothic elements and literary irony, Jewell has written a story of innocence lost and lives stolen and how those betrayed of their childhood would do anything to claim what was rightfully theirs.  

Jewell’s enigmatic and descriptive writing style is enough to hook you.  Her writing technique changes for every character that doesn’t just highlight the writing skill of the author but also helps set character behaviors apart.  

The multiple first-person POVs were expertly done balancing out the suspense as the readers go through each of the character’s narrative.  Jewell has written the chapters in such a way that she ends every chapter with a cliffhanger. The alternating POVs were laid out in a manner that responds to the baffling questions raised in the previous chapter.  Jewell has done a masterful job transitioning between dual timeframes that being transported into different scenes felt like a real palpable journey for the readers.

But unlike many other thriller novels, “The Family Upstairs” rejects the usual murder mystery trope found in most books of the same genre.  This novel offers its readers something else entirely: a narrative about getting back what was once lost. It is predominantly a novel about the relationship between parents and their children and how families differ from one another.   Several times throughout the novel I found myself rooting for a happy ending begging myself not to turn a page for fear of a darker plot twist. But the underlying thrill in settling for mystery novels asserts an irrevocable fact: the more sinister it gets, the better. 

Despite gaining mixed reviews, “The Family Upstairs” is one of the few novels that truly captivated me from start to finish.  It is riveting, twisted but metamorphic. It consumed me, scared me out of my wits but in the end, it made me understand how important family is.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Lisa Jewell

Genre: Mystery and Thriller

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: Atria Books (November 5, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1501190105

ISBN-13: 978-1501190100