I received my review copy of Eliza Wass’s The Cresswell Plot buried in a wooden box full of dirt. Needless to say, it piqued my attention. Everything about the book, from the unsettling cover to the eerie blurb makes you think you’re in for an extremely creepy read. And yeah, The Cresswell Plot is definitely creepy, although it may not be creepy enough to satiate readers hoping to be truly unsettled.
Castella Creswell’s family is unusual. She and her siblings adhere to the very strict rules of her father, who ascribes to a cult-like religion made particularly unsettling by the fact that he seems to have made it up himself, based on his very specific interpretation of the Bible and supplemented with writings of his own. The members of the Cresswell family are the only followers, but they’ve been indoctrinated since birth to truly believe. We meet up with Castella as a teenager, at a point in her life where she begins questioning these beliefs.
The story progresses as Castella starts testing boundaries – she begins spending more time with kids at school, sneaking out of the house, and contemplating romantic relationships. She struggles to maintain peace with her siblings, with their varying levels of commitment to their father, and wrestles with the idea of potentially leaving her family behind and striking out on her own.
Wass mostly succeeds in creating a very atmospheric tale with a constant sense of danger – when Castella fears her father’s punishments, you definitely feel that. And when Castella describes some of the rules her family abides by, it is impossible not to be weirded out. The poor girl is told she should be looking forward to dying and spending eternity in heaven married to her brother. I mean…
And speaking of the siblings, the Cresswell kids are almost a little too well-adjusted for me to totally buy into their actions. Several of them regularly break the rules and rebel against their lifestyle, even if it is done in a shroud of fear and secrecy. It happens a little too quickly and easily for kids who have been living in fear their whole lives and who actually do still believe a lot of their Father’s teachings. However, it does help the plot move along at a quick pace – The Cresswell Plot is a very quick read without any real lulls in action.
Father is a really interesting character; he’s extremely emotionally manipulative but you’re never sure if it’s intentional or if it’s just acting on blind faith. But I really wished I could have learned more about his backstory. You get little glimpses at Father’s life before his beliefs shifted, but no clear understanding of what caused him to become so scarily religious.
And that interesting-but-not-quite-there feeling is essentially what I felt for the book as a whole. The Cresswell Plot has a whole lot of potential, but it really just grazes the surface of that potential. It’s absolutely a quick, entertaining read with unique ambiance, but I just wanted a little bit more – more details on this homecooked religion, more backstory on the family, and more emotional impact. I should have been more unsettled by this book than I was. It’s sort of like a PG-13 horror movie – it can still be entertaining, but without exceptional execution, it’s hard for it to be truly scary.