‘The Heiress’: a twisty thriller explores familial betrayal

The cover of the book "The Heiress” by Rachel Hawkins. (OSV News photo/St. Martin’s Press)

Ruby McTavish Callahan Woodward Miller Kenmore has multiple last names because she has had four husbands, each of whom died in mysterious circumstances. Despite the fact that Mrs. McTavish was never prosecuted for any of those deaths, she has earned the nickname “Ruby Kill-more.” In her latest fast-paced novel, Rachel Hawkins takes readers inside the McTavish family after Ruby’s death, into her family’s mansion and the secrets that reside there.

The story unfolds through letters, fictional newspaper clippings and travel books, and mostly through the narration of Ruby’s adopted son, Camden, and his wife, Jules. Camden has inherited Ruby McTavish’s fortune, including the family mansion, but has essentially rejected his inheritance in order to be a high school teacher in Colorado. That is, until his uncle’s death gives him a reason to return to his family’s Appalachian town to settle financial details.

Once Camden and Jules arrive at his family’s mansion, readers begin to see the complicated family dynamics that are at play among the extended McTavish family members who live in the home despite it belonging legally to Camden. There are his cousins, Libby and Ben, and his aunt, Nelle, all of whom don’t consider Camden to be a true McTavish because he was adopted. This tension is punctuated by the fact that technically his family members are living in Camden’s home, on his dime, and are essentially subject to whatever decisions he makes regarding the family mansion.

As the story develops, it becomes clear that the philosophy of the McTavish family is basically “every man for himself.” Each person is looking for ways to get ahead, to secure the wealth that they believe properly belongs to them. The only question is: Will they be able to secure their inheritance before the secrets of their past are revealed?

“The Heiress” is fundamentally a story that will resonate with many readers: that of familial secrets and betrayal. In the McTavish family, no one is willing to make sacrifices out of love for their family members. Instead, they see their family members as means to an end — the end being more money than they could possibly imagine — behavior that St. John Paul II warned against in his “Theology of the Body” because it does not honor the God-given dignity of the human person. The result is a family environment where no one is trustworthy and every man is an island despite living together in the family home.

Readers familiar with Hawkins’ previous novel “The Wife Upstairs” or Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” will enjoy the unpredictability and the multi-angle storytelling in “The Heiress.” They should be aware that there is some sensitive content, including language, romantic encounters and one description of a violent death, none of which are particularly unexpected for a modern novel. “The Heiress” is a classic thriller with twists and turns in practically every chapter, making it the type of book that will keep readers up late, unable to go to sleep without knowing what happens next.


Scroll to Top