Book Review: THE INVITED by Jennifer McMahon

The Invited opens with a gripping and viscerally-felt description of the fate, in 1924, of Hattie Breckenridge, an opening that grabs hold tightly, and immediately pulls the reader into this paranormal and horror-influenced tale.

Cut to 2015, when we meet Helen and Nate Wetherell, a history teacher, and a science teacher, respectively, at a private, residential, middle school. Happily married, yet both questioning their lives, they decide to shift gears, give up their teaching jobs, sell their suburban, Connecticut condo, and purchase forty-four acres of land in rural, Hartsboro, Vermont. The plan is to build their dream home with their own hands in a clearing surrounded by pine forest, with a narrow path leading down to a bog. While their homesteading adventure - being surrounded by nature, and living “off of the grid” and off of the land as much as possible - initially seems idyllic, this is no ordinary piece of land, with no ordinary bog. It has a history. And if I’ve learned anything about crime fiction that involves bogs - Scottish crime fiction, for instance - it is that things don’t always turn out well when you have peat, and spongy earth that might suddenly swallow anything heavier than moss in any given spot!

Temporarily dwelling, during construction, in a rusted-out, old trailer, left behind by the previous property owner who was eager to get away, Helen, especially, begins to believe that the land that she and her husband, Nate, purchased - the clearing, the forest, the bog - may be haunted. As a history buff, interested in colonial New England, and nostalgic about American pioneers like the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Helen investigates, and gradually begins to learn that her new life is no Little House on the Prairie, and that the story of their insular, adopted home is a very dark history, indeed.

Enter Olive Kissner, a young, socially isolated teen in the community, who also begins to take on the role of amateur detective, but in the case of why her mother left one night, and never returned. She had always been led to believe that her mother abandoned her father and her to start over with someone new. But as Olive digs deeper and deeper, she starts questioning what she’d always understood to be the truth about her mother’s absence. Ultimately, Helen’s friendship with Olive’s fun, non-conforming Aunt Riley, Helen’s historical research, as well as Olive’s “present day” probing all converge to produce an unexpected resolution.

With beautiful descriptions of nature, and an atmosphere of subtle menace and eeriness, Jennifer McMahon’s The Invited will appeal to readers who appreciate mysteries about spirits, hauntings, and the occult, yet prefer stories that are not overly violent, or too scary or stressful.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon book cover image.jpg

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy atmospheric mysteries with otherworldly elements.

  • Who are interested in historical crime fiction. While The Invited does not strictly fall into this subgenre, there is much emphasis on research into historical figures and happenings.

  • Who appreciate lush descriptions of the flora and fauna of nature in their crime fiction.

  • Who will not be offended by depictions of marijuana use.

  • Who do not mind suspending a bit of disbelief.

  • With its exploration of witchcraft and ghosts, The Invited would be a good, “low-intensity” (meaning not too gruesome or frightening overall) Halloween season read.

    Pages: 353 (Hardcover)

Publisher’s Description:

A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times bestselling 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.

MINM Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars