Eighteen-year-old Merricat Blackwood lives in a secluded mansion with her older sister Constance, and their uncle Julian. They are the only ones out of the seven Blackwoods who survived when a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one night. Having been acquitted of the murders of her mother, father, brother, and aunt, Constance has returned home and is shielded from the villagers' hostility by Merricat. But their fragile peace shatters when their cousin Charles comes to visit. Merricat knows that Charles is only after their wealth, and that no good will come of his visit. She has to protect her sister from his greedy claws...before it's too late.
This was the first Shirley Jackson book I've read, and it was so good I'm reading another now. I suppose it can be classified as a horror book, but the horror is more atmospheric and psychological; it's more creepy than downright scary. The book builds up suspense slowly, leading to the revelation of who the murderer really was. I was surprised by who the murderer was, but disappointed that, except for a few thoughts in Merricat's mind, the reason for the murder was never really explained. I enjoyed the fact that Merricat was a completely unreliable narrator, and her twisted psyche was maybe the creepiest part of the book, not, as the description on the back cover suggests, cousin Charles' visit. She veered between cruel fantasies of pain and death for the villagers, and childish fantasies of living on the moon. She talked and seemed like a much younger child as well, certainly not eighteen.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to fans of Gothic and subtle horror.