In the wake of their Aunt Amity's suicide, Scott and Madeline Madden are summoned to Caveat, the eerie, decaying mansion in the Hollywood hills in which they were raised. But their decadent and reclusive cousins, the malicious wheelchair-bound Claimayne and his sister, Ariel, do not welcome Scott and Madeline's return to the childhood home they once shared. While Scott desperately wants to go back to their shabby south of Sunset lives, he cannot pry his sister away from this old house that is a conduit for the supernatural.
Decorated by bits salvaged from old hotels and movie sets, Caveat hides a dark family secret that stretches back to the golden days of Rudolph Valentino and the silent film stars. A collection of hypnotic abstract images inked on paper allows the Maddens to briefly fragment and flatten time—to transport themselves into the past and future in visions that are both puzzling and terrifying.
As Madeline falls more completely under Caveat's spell, Scott must fight to protect her. But will he unravel the mystery of the Madden family's past and finally free them... or be pulled deeper into their deadly web?
Damn near a decade since his last standalone, two-time Philip K. Dick Award winner Tim Powers paints a characteristically trippy picture of modern Hollywood in Medusa's Web, a tense time-travel thriller about addiction and the fault lines that families straddle.
The far-from-happy family at the heart of this narrative are the Maddens, under ancient Aunt Amity—a half-mad matriarch and erstwhile author who owns the deteriorating estate where the bulk of Powers' tale takes place:
Madeline had moved out of Caveat seven years ago, leaving her aunt with Ariel and Claimayne and the solitary writing of her endless unpublishable novels. Scott had left six years before that, to get married, though when that Louise woman left him he hadn't moved back in. (p.58)
Neither Madeline, an astrologer, nor Scott, an artist, had planned to come back to the moldering mansion they left so long ago, but Amity Madden's explosive suicide necessitates a reassessment. Her hastily-written last will stipulates that this house in the Hills is theirs to do what they want with if they can stomach spending a week within its walls—so home they go, much to Ariel and Claimayne's dismay.
Although Caveat has certainly seen better days, Ariel and Claimayne see it as their hard-earned inheritance. Understandably, then, they do everything in their power to drive Scott and Madeline away... until the same secret that tore the Maddens apart to start—a stash of so-called "spiders"—resurfaces, endangering everyone in the property in the process.