The Family Plot begins with the Lighthouse children returning home after their father’s death. Dahlia Lighthouse hopes her twin Andy will finally return since he left on his sixteenth birthday. Her older siblings Charlie and Tate are there, the first time she has seen them since they left after Andy ran away. Since then, Dahlia has scoured social media and search sites for a hint of her brother, his absence a great hole in her heart. None of them have returned home since reaching their majority, a unanimous, unspoken rejection of their upbringing that revolved around true crime, their mother’s obsession. That they lived on an island where a serial killer had continued to kill for years only added to the pain they associated with their home.
When the grave is dug for their father, the remains of someone are found in his grave. Common sense says it must be Andy, but Dahlia cannot bear the thought. As she struggles to accept her twin’s death, the rest of her family is not coping well. Her mother is making batch after batch of cookies, something she never did while they were children. Her brother is preparing to open their home as a public memorial museum for one day in hopes of dissipating the neighbors’ lifelong suspicion of their family. Her sister is making a diorama of her brother’s death. This is a death-obsessed family home-schooled on a true crime curriculum. Dahlia is determined to find out who killed Andy.
Only their mother seems to be grieving their father. He had little interest in his daughters and only spent time with his sons whom he took with him on his frequent hunting expeditions for deer.
The Family Plot is an engrossing mystery with a very Gothic sensibility. Their house may not be haunted by ghosts, but it is haunted by murder victims, from their grandparents to the many famed murder victims that the children were named after. The main character, Dahlia, is not the most lovable protagonist in the world. She is self-absorbed, lacking compassion for other’s pain, and a poor friend. Her mother and siblings are also not likable, though I had more compassion for them than Dahlia did for most of the book. The mother baking away her grief seems unhinged. And the father, well, he’s dead and unknowable. Nonetheless, this family is compelling and the reader will likely care as much about them as the solution to the murders. Was Andy killed by the serial killer or someone else?
I liked the book better while reading it than after I finished. The ending is not completely unexpected and the mystery is fair. We know what we need to know to figure things out, but the full horror of it is painful and disturbing. I find the book troubling in retrospect. The way the children were raised, home-schooled with a true-crime curriculum is child abuse. Both parents failed their children in so many ways. It was so much more painful than most mystery resolutions.
I received an e-galley of The Family Plot from the publisher through Edelweiss.