by Jennifer McMahon
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Length: 384 Pages
Release date: April 30, 2019
A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Timesbestselling author of The Winter People returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house, they start building one from scratch, without knowing it, until it’s too late . . .
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and their teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. As Helen starts carefully sourcing decorative building materials for her home–wooden beams, mantles, historic bricks–she starts to unearth, and literally conjure, the tragic lives of Hattie’s descendants, three generations of “Breckenridge women,” each of whom died amidst suspicion, and who seem to still be seeking something precious and elusive in the present day.
My thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.
The Invited is a super fun ghost story from Jennifer McMahon with an intriguing mystery to unravel. Helen and Nate abandon their jobs and the city life they know to build their own house in the woods of Vermont. The setup is a bit tropey and cliche; unwelcoming backwoods locals clash with outsiders from the city, rumors of a buried treasure, and a marriage strained by supernatural occurrences. Both Helen and Nate become caught up in their own respective obsessions related to the haunting of their new land.
I think the heavy use of familiar tropes made the ghost story feel cozy rather than overdone, and it made for a nice contrast to the creepier elements of the story. Helen’s background as a history teacher meshed well with her character’s growing obsession with the dark history of the land, and what starts out as a rather understandable fascination slowly begins to feel a bit sinister as the story goes on.
The novel is compulsively readable and I flew through most of it in a couple of days. That being said, there were a few reasons for my middle of the road rating, despite enjoying a lot of the aspects of the story. There were a few moments of clunky writing that read more like a debut author or a rough draft than what you’d expect from someone with multiple prior novels, like McMahon.
There’s a section of painfully unnatural dialog which was clearly only written the way it was because a character needed to overhear a key bit of information in order for the plot to progress. There are a few coincidences that strain the limits of credulity, and a plot twist connecting the modern story with the historical background of the land which can be seen from about a million miles away. This was a fun book, but it’s hard to call it anything more substantial than fun.
Jennifer McMahon’s The Invited may be a great choice for fans of Megan Miranda and Riley Sager.
Thank you for reading! What was the last novel you read with a ghost involved in the plot? Let me know in the comments!