Book Review / Catherine Steadman / Reviews with Spoilers

Catherine Steadman | The Family Game

The Book: 

The Family Game by Catherine Steadman
Published October 18, 2022 by Ballantine Books
Date read: October 2, 2022

The Characters: 



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The Plot (from Goodreads):

Harry is a novelist on the brink of stardom; Edward, her husband-to-be, is seemingly perfect. In love and freshly engaged, their bliss is interrupted by the reemergence of the Holbecks, Edward’s eminent family and the embodiment of American old money. For years, they’ve dominated headlines and pulled society’s strings, and Edward left them all behind to forge his own path. But there are eyes and ears everywhere. It was only a matter of time before they were pulled back in . . .

After all, even though he’s long severed ties with his family, Edward is set to inherit it all. Harriet is drawn to the glamour and sophistication of the Holbecks, who seem to welcome her with open arms, but everything changes when she meets Robert, the inescapably magnetic head of the family. At their first meeting, Robert slips Harry a cassette tape, revealing a shocking confession which sets the inevitable game in motion.

What is it about Harry that made him give her that tape? A thing that has the power to destroy everything? As she ramps up her quest for the truth, she must endure the Holbecks’ savage Christmas traditions all the while knowing that losing this game could be deadly.

Click here for book spoilers for The Family Game
Book spoilers ahead–if you haven’t yet read The Family Game, I suggest you turn back now.

The Twist:

Robert (Edward’s father) gave Harriet a tape confessing to the murder of Edward’s younger brother’s college girlfriend. Instead of going to the police, Harriet began investigating the family herself. The reader listens to the tape alongside Harriet’s day-to-day actions, pausing the tape presumably when Harriet herself does. Other women had died as well, all that figured out family secrets and were a threat to the family.

The Krampus night had this huge bizarre leadup, but was just a family tradition possibly taken too far, where Harriet was conned into babysitting and got understandably freaked out by an actor in an expensive suit.

The big secret that Harriet was hiding was that on the night her parents died in the car crash, Harriet set fire to the car of the driver that hit them. She had been spotted by someone who lived in the area, and somehow Robert found out. She watched the man burn as penance for killing her parents.

On Christmas, the whole family went to the Holbecks’ property in upstate NY. There was another bizarre family game, but this one was much more sinister. The family was required to compete for their presents, but the presents were high-stakes. Each family member had a big secret, and their Christmas gift was that their secret would be resolved for them. For Harriet, presumably this would be Robert erasing the evidence of the night her parents died. Robert gave the example of their ancestor’s gambling debt being erased.

The competition was a race through a scavenger hunt. Harriet was given clues that led her to a body in the well. She had to get a clue that was on a necklace on the body, so she somehow climbed down the well, found this rotting body, and then climbed back out. While on her way back to the house, she found Fiona’s body in the maze.

Harriet realized that Edward was the killer, not Robert. Robert was warning her. Harriet went back inside and found the maids, Matilda, and Eleanor drugged. She told Matilda to go hide with Eleanor in the woods. She found Oliver’s body, and then came to Edward where he had Robert tied up in the living room.

Edward admitted that he had been slipping drugs to Bobby that interacted with his Adderall and prompted Bobby to commit suicide. Bobby’s girlfriend found out and suspected Edward, so he killed her. Edward admitted this to his first girlfriend hoping that she’d understand, but she didn’t so he killed her and her best friend. Melissa was an assistant that found out too much.

Edward was going to kill Robert, as well as Harriet if she didn’t agree to keep his secrets. Harriet’s “gift” was a bottle of lighter fluid, which was under the tree next to where Robert was tied up. Robert distracted Edward while Harriet dove for the lighter fluid, and she was able to douse Edward and catch it from the fireplace. Edward died. Harriet saved Robert, Stuart, and the maids.

The Ending:

The epilogue was 6 months later, after Iris was born. Harriet was still part of the Holbeck family, and the fire was attributed to a gas leak.

Some Questions:

Why was her publicist calling on the day after Thanksgiving to nag her about writing? Most people take that day off.

Why was Harriet so freaked out by this family’s Christmas tradition? Krampus is reasonably well-known and her reaction to hearing about their party was bizarre.

Some Observations:

I’m pretty sure if my partner’s father gave me a possible confession, the first thing I’d do is tell Pat about it.

They mixed up Lucy and Samantha’s surnames in the audio at one point.

The Review: 

Thank you to PRH Audio for this complimentary audiobook.

I listened to The Family Game on a recent short road trip with my family. It was certainly a fun one to listen with a group, with all its bizarre twists! I also LOVE when audiobooks are read by the author. It adds such a layer to the story that ensures I’m hearing it exactly as the author intended, and it makes it all the more special. Catherine Steadman is well suited to this task, too, with her background as an actress.

This tale of an eccentric wealthy family was unlike anything else I’ve read recently, and I was hooked by this family’s bizarre traditions. At first I didn’t understand why Harriet was so put off by Krampusnacht–it’s a well-known German tradition, so her reaction before attending seemed rather over the top to me. However, it all made sense when she arrived! That scene set the atmosphere perfectly for me, and drove home how eccentric this family was.

And the family games just got more bizarre from there, ending in an extremely grisly Christmas Eve!

I really enjoyed this unique story, and after being disappointed by The Disappearing Act, it has renewed my love for Catherine Steadman’s thrillers. This is the perfect Christmas thriller, for when you get sick of back-to-back Christmas romances!

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