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The Family Game


The Family Game

Imagine you’re a writer, and your first novel has just achieved bestselling status. Then imagine you’ve met the love of your life --- a man who’s handsome, successful, thoughtful and wildly rich. Harriet Reed doesn’t have to imagine anymore. She can hardly believe her luck.

Edward Holbeck came into her life at an unexpected time, and they hit it off just like that. Harriet has no family of her own because of a tragic automobile accident long ago, so finding herself hooked up with the large Holbeck clan delights --- and scares --- her. With the holiday season approaching, Harriet suggests that it might be a good time to meet Edward’s family. He has some doubts, though. Edward hasn’t been close with any of them lately, but now that he’s engaged, he reluctantly agrees. Perhaps Harriet is right; it’s time to reunite with them.

"Twisty and terrifying, Catherine Steadman’s THE FAMILY GAME delves into the darker side of humanity.... This is edge-of-your-seat stuff here. Be sure to keep the lights on."

Edward’s sister, Matilda, sets up a lunch date with Harriet. The two women seem to enjoy it, so Matilda invites Harriet and Edward to dinner, which ends up being a sneaky invitation to Thanksgiving with the whole family. A dubious Edward suggests that Harriet try to come up with an excuse to back out. But she decides it’s time to take the plunge. And it actually goes fairly well, although his family can be a bit much.

As the rest of the Holbecks move to the drawing room after dinner at Matilda’s, the family patriarch, Robert, requests a private word with Harriet. Nervously, she follows him into his study. At first they’re having a friendly chat, the kind people use to get to know each other. Then he asks her for a favor --- to listen to a tape he has recorded that could serve as the basis for a book. Harriet is puzzled but agrees nonetheless. Robert says he has read her novel, so he must want some advice on writing. As days go by, curiosity eats at her, but finding the time to steal away and listen to Robert’s story eludes her. When she finally gets around to it, what she hears horrifies her. Why did he give her this tape?

The Holbeck family not only has very strange ways of going about life, they also have a tradition of playing very strange games. And Harriet seems to be the one thrown into the midst of them all. One such game is played on something called Krampusnacht. The children appear reluctant, almost frightened. But they all join in, along with one or two adults. Harriet plays but discovers that the game is far from anything she ever could have imagined, more like several hours of raw terror. Did they really intend to involve the kids? She’s certainly getting an elemental picture of the family she’s marrying into. Does she want this after all?

Along with their outrageous wealth, the Holbecks have outrageous ways of celebrating holidays and events. Shortly thereafter, Harriet and Edward receive an invitation to The Hydes for Christmas. Edward explains that The Hydes is their massive estate out in the countryside. It would be just three days. It’s tradition, and it’ll be fun. Of course, the Holbecks have a game they play at Christmas, too. A game with unimaginable stakes.

Twisty and terrifying, Catherine Steadman’s THE FAMILY GAME delves into the darker side of humanity. On the surface, the family in Harriet’s future appears normal. As she soon finds out, they are anything but. The Holbecks couldn’t be further from normal if they all had three heads. This is edge-of-your-seat stuff here. Be sure to keep the lights on.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on October 28, 2022

The Family Game
by Catherine Steadman