The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

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T he novel picks up where The Family Upstairs left off, with Henry Lamb, his sister Lucy and the elusive Phineas “Phin” Thomsen. The reader is reacquainted with a tight-knit group of people whose ties stem from a traumatic upbringing in 1990s London. Rachel Gold Rimmer, whose husband, Michael, was once married to Lucy, is introduced in this book. While you don’t necessarily need to read the two books in order it does help make sense of it, although the author does a wonderful job of reminding readers about the main events in the first book.

The plot twists and turns begin when police discover the remains of musician Birdie Dunlop-Evers in the banks of the Thames River, transporting the reader back in time. Reported missing by her parents in 1996, Birdie was autopsied, and her bones revealed blunt force trauma. The subsequent murder investigation by Detective Inspector Samuel Owusu serves only to heighten the intensity of the characters’ actions. Justin Redding, once Birdie’s boyfriend but now a depressed man living in solitude, makes a minor reappearance but plays a big part in the mystery’s resolution. The ensuing police investigation is interwoven throughout the novel and how it impacts Henry and Lucy.

At 42, Henry is a successful but lonely gay man reflecting on his life and relationships. On the other side of the world, Phin Thomsen, the love-hate object of Henry’s youth, escaped his painful past and is supposedly working on a game reserve in Africa. Beautiful Lucy has managed to keep her two kids, Marco and Stella, fed and clothed although they are mostly homeless until Henry takes them all in. She has moved on from her twisted relationship with Michael, who is now married to Rachel.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s 25-year-old daughter, Libby Jones, also called Serenity Lamb before she was adopted, has inherited all the Lamb money and the house. Libby’s journalist boyfriend, Miller Roe, has tracked down Phin and plans a holiday on safari so Libby can reconnect with her biological dad. And so begins the cat-and-mouse chase from London to Chicago as Henry pursues Phin. What will Henry do when he catches up with Phin?

“I pretend that I’m listening but I’m not. I’m busy swallowing down the fireball of shock that has just jumped from my gut to my throat at the revelation that Phin is bi, and that Phin, my Phin, has slept with Kris Doll, this man who I am currently sitting just a few inches away from, and that if I were to touch Kris, right now, it would be almost as if I were touching Phin…” Henry’s inner thoughts are heartbreaking but simultaneously border on stalking.
Lucy discovers Henry’s plans, and she and her kids embark on a whirlwind journey to find him before he finds and possibly hurts Phin. It’s a tangled web of characters who share a harrowing past that threatens to ruin the present. Events transpire throughout the novel that will keep you hooked. In a suspenseful thriller as well as a rich portrait in character development, Jewell works her magic on the page through details and dialogue.

Early in the book, Michael’s body is discovered by his housekeeper in Antibes; but is it Lucy or Rachel who killed him? Or maybe someone else? Through flashbacks, the sordid tale of Michael and Rachel’s courtship and disastrous marriage is revealed. His gaslighting Rachel is believable, intense and impacts every thread of Rachel’s life, from her friendships to her finances.

“Rachel opened her mouth to respond but then realized she didn’t know what to say. After a second, she said, “I did not go cold on you. You went cold on me.”

“Well, that’s your interpretation of events. I just seem to recall seeing a lot of your back in bed at night.”

“What! Michael, Jesus, NO. That is not how it was. You know that’s not how it was…”

This well-crafted novel will have you guessing until close to the conclusion. You will ponder about the ties that bind us such as family, friendships and loyalty. It combines realistic situations with raw emotions in an easy read so you’ll find yourself catching your breath yet feel compelled to finish it in one sitting. Sequels this good don’t come around too often.