Skip to main content

The Family Plot


The Family Plot

In the opening sentence of Megan Collins’ THE FAMILY PLOT, the first person narrator reveals that she was named Dahlia after the Black Dahlia, an actress who was gruesomely murdered. Likewise, her siblings were named after other murder victims, including her twin brother, Andy (the name of Lizzie Borden's father). The matriarch of the Lighthouse family was born into wealth, and her children knew growing up that her parents were murder victims. Their father was distant from the two girls, but shared his favorite pastime --- hunting --- with Andy and their older brother, Charlie.

From the start, we learn that their entire childhood was twisted and warped. Their mother homeschooled them, and everything they learned had to do with murders and their victims. They lived in an old mansion at the top of Blackburn Island, where they were isolated from those who lived there. Adding to the despicable crimes they studied, on that island there was a serial killer, the Blackburn Killer, who slaughtered many women over the course of 20 years and was never caught. In this hellacious atmosphere, they would hold "Honoring" ceremonies, where they lit candles and remembered those whose lives were lost.

"THE FAMILY PLOT will draw you into what seems like a spider's web of death... You will be tempted to read the book twice to see what you missed the first time."

It's now been years since Dahlia left her home and the island. While her older siblings, Charlie and Tate, departed on their 18th birthdays, the dates they received access to their trust funds, Dahlia remained for an extra year. Andy disappeared on the evening of his and Dahlia’s 16th birthday, leaving behind a cryptic note, and she's been searching for him ever since. Andy's disappearance left Dahlia feeling bereft of family. Her mother wasn't warm and loving, her father was distant and barely interacted with his daughters, and Charlie and Tate had their own strangely close relationship. So Dahlia spends all of her time looking for her brother, convinced that he is alive somewhere.

Now Dahlia has returned to the island and her childhood home for the first time in many years because of her father’s death. She hopes that Andy will hear the news and come back. But he doesn't show up, and her dreams of a reunion are finally shattered when his murdered corpse appears in her father's burial plot. Bizarrely, her parents had their plots prepared for them years ago, and no one had noticed that someone was buried in their father's spot. Andy was killed with the ax he loved to carry around.

Much of the story centers on the absolutely creepy, unnatural behavior of pretty much every member of the Lighthouse family. Their mother now starts baking cookies, which she had never done before. Charlie is drinking nonstop and also appears to be a tortured soul, working feverishly to turn their mansion into a murder museum. Tate continues to work on her dioramas of death scenes, which has given her Instagram influencer status. She has always been creative, and her recreation of the death scenes of the Blackburn Killer's victims have given her dedicated followers. Now, to Dahlia's horror, Tate is recreating Andy's death scene. Dahlia has done nothing with her life but live on her trust funds and spend every day looking for her brother. She has one friend, Greta, who loves true crime and helps in her online searches. Each member of the family is warped, and it's an uncomfortable experience reading about their strangeness.

But the story is intriguing, and Collins plumbs the depths of human depravity as we learn more about what really occurred when the Lighthouse siblings were younger. Who is the killer? The author provides many clues and red herrings, but when we finally learn the truth, it's not a complete surprise. Still, there are plenty of truths to be discovered here, and some of them will be shocking and heartbreaking. For this is not just a murder mystery; it's a story of psychological torture and betrayal by parents who deprive their children of a normal, loving childhood. Both parents are equally culpable but in quite different ways.

THE FAMILY PLOT will draw you into what seems like a spider's web of death, and instead of trying to break free of this insidious lair, you will follow each silken thread as each path leads to one devastating truth after another until we see what is at the center of the trap --- because some members of the Lighthouse family were truly trapped in that web and could see no way out. You will be tempted to read the book twice to see what you missed the first time. The clues were there, but the answers lay frustratingly out of reach.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on August 20, 2021

The Family Plot
by Megan Collins