In The Family Plot by Megan Collins “Our family was unnatural,” a phrase spoken by Andy, one of the four Lighthouse siblings, is a vast understatement. The Lighthouse children, Charlie, Dahlia (our narrator), Andy and Tate, are all named after murder victims, so it’s obvious from page one that all the members of the Lighthouse family are obsessed with the subject of murder. But perhaps that makes sense as their mother’s parents were brutally murdered during a home invasion in Connecticut at the family estate. Following the murder, she moved to Blackburn island, to their summer home, a “drafty, secluded mansion,” where their father, Daniel, “indulged her eccentricities, and did not protest as she turned the mansion into something of a mausoleum.” A mausoleum for murder victims. Add to that the fact that the Lighthouse children are homeschooled, and … the main focus of the curriculum … you guessed it … is murder. Making those murder dioramas must have been so much fun. Let’s pile on that the disturbing fact Blackburn Island has a serial killer of its own, and the killer has never been caught. The Lighthouse home is nicknamed the Murder Mansion by the locals and the family members are considered weird. No wonder these kids are screwed up.
When the novel opens, the children, now adults, understandably are scattered, (I’d have changed my name,) and Dahlia returns to the island after an absence of 7 years. She has returned only because her father died, and this reunion isn’t going to be any fun. Tate is an artist, Charlie is an actor, Dahlia is the narrator, and Andy… well he went missing at age 16, and it was assumed that he ran away (not that anyone could blame him). The loyal family employee, Fritz, is busy digging a grave for Dad (yes, he’s being buried on the island) when he discovers a body in the plot that was saved for dear old dad. As to what happened to missing brother Andy, well the mystery is solved. He’s been lying 6 feet under in the back garden all this time. But who killed him?
The premise of the book sounded interesting with its underlying theme that those touched by murder are never the same, and the internet is full of stories about people who become obsessed with murders and then go off the rails in various interesting ways. But for this reader, the entire setup was hard to swallow. There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s just plain cuckoo. I stopped many times, put the book down and asked myself whether or not these damaged people, raised in this toxic environment would have kept acting like idiots? It’s understandable that mummy is a nutjob: her parents were murdered and then her whole life became murder, but even with that in mind, I couldn’t accept the plot. Wouldn’t you at least wonder what the hell happened to your twin brother, a teen who was clearly unhappy at home? Wouldn’t you ask yourself why you never heard from him again, and why your parents moan a bit but then quickly move on? The family members are all freaky weird but in the first pages after finding Andy’s body in the grave, there they are all in the kitchen eating cookies. No one is saying WTF, packing their bags and hightailing it off that miserable island.
With many books, willing suspension of disbelief is engaged, albeit this tacit agreement by the reader may be fragile, or challenged, but in The Family Plot the willing suspension of disbelief must be resuscitated repeatedly. I found it impossible to accept the behavior of the characters, so if you are about to embark on this book, be prepared to toss your disbelief out the window and then watch it bounce back. I just went with the plot and then I found myself saying things such as “what sickos,” or “as if,” “oh come off it” and even “wtf.” That said, it’s an easy, quick read that keeps you barreling along to the last page. Some readers loved the book, so perhaps I’m in the minority here.