Book Review: The Other Family by Wendy Corsi Staub

In Wendy Corsi Staub's The Other Family, a family making a fresh start moves into a house that was the site of an unsolved triple homicide and has been unoccupied since—but not unwatched...

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub has written nearly ninety novels in a celebrated career that has transcended genre, though her name is most synonymous with adult suspense. While her earliest books in this vein were singular stories featuring women in jeopardy and villains hidden behind familiar faces, she began penning trilogies when she moved to HarperCollins in 2010; the most recent of these sagas, The Foundlings Trilogy, concluded with The Butcher’s Daughter (2020). This January, Staub returns with her first standalone novel in more than a decade, The Other Family.

As the story opens, we find the Howell family—parents Nora and Keith, their teenage daughters, Stacey and Piper, and contented canine Kato—beginning anew in Brooklyn after having relocated from California, at least temporarily. It’s not only a requirement of Keith’s job, but a chance to put the struggles that have plagued them in the past. They’ve found a charming redbrick row house, complete with garden space, to make their own for the foreseeable future. If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. You see, 104 Glover Street was the site of a triple homicide, still unsolved, in 1994—and has remained unoccupied (though not unwatched) ever since.

With Keith largely consumed by work, it’s up to Nora—continually preoccupied with secrets and a mysterious character named Teddy—to find ways to occupy her time. Thus she turns to gardening, which reveals a metal box containing cash, a gun, and aged photographs. (Dun dun dun duuun!) She is befriended by neighborhood couple Heather and Jules, who have two children of their own. While effervescent Piper finds an immediate BFF in Courtney, the more studious Stacey (who’s going through a Lizzie Borden phase) becomes inexplicably drawn to angsty, brooding Lennon. It’s during an introductory dinner between the families that he reveals their house’s haunted history, which comes as a complete surprise to some.

The story is presented through the alternating perspectives of Norah, Stacey, and a “watcher” named Jacob. Each possesses some feeling or knowledge that may be critical to the completion of the plot’s puzzles, which causes them (and readers) to question whether it’s paranoia or some kind of self-preservation instinct at work—at least until the pieces come into alignment. Further, the characters’ rich, roiling inner lives often conflict with their external ones, amplifying suspicions and suspense as past and present collide with deadly consequences. It’s all expertly accomplished and contrasts brilliantly with the seemingly idyllic sense of place that Staub has so vividly created. After all, Autumn in Brooklyn is glorious…when the sun is up.

The Other Family is Wendy Corsi Staub’s triumphant return to her roots. While the trilogies of recent years allowed her to show the true breadth and depth of her talents, there’s an undeniable appeal to standalone efforts such as this. The simplicity of the storytelling is immediately arresting and immersive, even as you come to realize just how complex the book’s plotting and precision really is. Then, there’s that insidious sense of dread that grows ever more palpable until it becomes all-consuming. And a gasp-worthy final reveal will chill and thrill fans of the author’s work in equal measure. Sleepless nights are made of this…

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