Review: The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell

The Caretakers by Eliza Maxwell

Published: April 14, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing

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Synopsis: Filmmaker Tessa Shepherd helped free a man she believed was wrongly imprisoned for murder. When he kills again, Tessa’s life is upended.

She’s reeling with guilt, her reputation destroyed. Worse, Tessa’s mother has unexpectedly passed away, and her sister, Margot, turns on her after tensions from their past escalate. Hounded by a bullying press, Tessa needs an escape. That’s when she learns of a strange inheritance bequeathed by her mother: a derelict and isolated estate known as Fallbrook. It seems like the perfect refuge.

A crumbling monument to a gruesome history, the mansion has been abandoned by all but two elderly sisters retained as caretakers. They are also guardians of all its mysteries. As the house starts revealing its dark secrets, Tessa must face her fears and right the wrongs of her past to save herself and her relationship with Margot. But nothing and no one at Fallbrook are what they seem.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing!***

I was not sure that I was going to like this one when I first started it. I liked Tessa as the narrating character but the story just didn’t grab me at first. Tessa was so real. She had flaws and had made mistakes, she was open with these things and wanted to escape from it. I like characters that feel like real people and Tessa did. This book weaves three different stories that all center on the idea of justice, family and the damage that the past can do to the present.

The first storyline is of Oliver Barlowe. Tessa did a documentary about his conviction for rape and murder. She didn’t go into the project with any particular agenda but along the way she began to believe that Oliver was innocent. And so the documentary ended up leading to a new trial where he was released. But then, a year or so later, he kidnaps and murders the daughter of the police chief. There’s no doubt he did it this time because he made a video admitting it. This throws Tessa into an unwelcome spotlight as she has to examine whether or not she was wrong the first time. And even if she wasn’t wrong about his innocence then, she can’t deny that he’s a murderer now.

Then we have the story of Tessa and her sister Margo. Something really terrible happened when they were newly college-aged that yanked Tessa out of her sister’s life. The death of their mother forces the two of them to confront that past and the reasons why neither one reached out to bridge the gap.

Finally, we have the story of the forgotten family homestead. Again it is a place where awful things have happened. Things that just about everyone would love to forget. But when Tessa runs there to hide from public pressure about Oliver, she can’t resist pressing into the history and trying to find out the truth.

At first, I wasn’t in love with the story about Fallbrook. I kept hoping we’d hear more about Oliver instead, but in the end that story won me over. It chilled me, it touched me, and then it shocked me. Similarly the story of Tessa and her sister. At first I didn’t really care and thought it didn’t belong in the book at all. But as the book went on I was drawn into the tale and it took on a much greater significance to the overall story.

I read the last 140 pages of this book in one sitting. I was so entranced by it that I simply couldn’t put it down. I loved how the three storylines ended up coming together and each one was given more gravity and significance together than it did on its own. I loved it.