Mystery/Thriller

The Best Mystery Novels About Dark Family Secrets

Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks, from MIRA books.

Step-mom Leigh Fletcher goes to work one day but then doesn’t come home. The family is left shattered with her disappearance. Kai Janssen leaves her glamorous penthouse one day and seemingly evaporates into thin air. Her wealthy husband is distraught. Detective Clements believes the disappearances of these women might be connected. But how far will she go to discover the shocking and devastating truth…

Families, whether biological or found, can be great. They are a place to go to during holiday breaks, your birthdays, and a place to rest when life gets you down. Or at least you like to think so. But, what if with familial sanctuary comes a cost? What if the comfort of family and home comes with a dark obligation, an obligation to keep at all costs?

Family secrets are something we never really tire of reading about. There are so many tiny moments that mean something entirely different to every family that they decide to sweep under the carpet. But these secrets fester under that rug, becoming more than just dust mite entities. They become anchors that, instead of grounding the members of the family, hold them tight, keeping them close to the ground where the bodies may lie.

That is what the stories below deal with. What it means when a place and people you called your home turn out to be something completely different, and you realize you are no different. The books for this list range from a little bit dark to incredibly dark. But, all deal with what happens when you start to peel layers away from a group of people with shared lives and stories.

The Family Plot cover

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

Dahlia Lighthouse and her siblings have had a bit of an unconventional childhood. They have been homeschooled by their parents obsessed with true crime, and the history and geography of various serial killers have been part of the curriculum. On their 16th birthday, Dahlia’s twin, Andy, disappears never to be heard from again. Everyone moves away except Dahlia, hoping for Andy’s return. When their father’s death brings them together again, they make a shocking discovery about what happened to Andy, the truth about their family, and the one serial killer their parents forgot to teach them about, “The Blackburn Killer.”

book cover for Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Your immediate family having secrets is something you come to terms with, but what if the secrets belong to the in-laws of your cousin? Noemí is having the time of her life in Mexico City when she is summoned by her cousin, suffering from ill-health to the countryside. When Noemí reaches her cousin, what she sees is a magnificent household, High Place, hiding terrible, horrifying secrets. It falls onto her to get herself and her cousin out in time before the secrets of High Place catch up to them.

cover of My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Staying silent about your sibling staying out past curfew is one thing, but what if you had to stay silent about your sister leaving behind a trail of dead bodies? Even worse, what if you had to help clean them up because your sister seems to be incapable of understanding how bleach works? It is just as bizarre and traumatic as it sounds, and our author Braithwaite slowly unravels this big story in a thin volume.

cover image of The Turnout by Megan Abbot

The Turnout by Megan Abbott

If there is one author who understands how a seemingly insignificant moment in a family’s history becomes their defining moment and forever a dark secret, it’s Megan Abbott. In her most recent work, she turns her focus on the Durant sisters. Dara and Maria have been dancers since birth. Together with their parents, they have run The Durant School of Dance. When an accident takes their parents from them, it falls onto the girls to take care of the school. They have kept it all going, but days before the biggest annual performance, a suspicious accident occurs which brings well-kept secrets and feelings to the surface, leading to a breathtaking climax.

book cover for home before dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Some families hide their secrets never to be found, some work through them through a series of awkward confrontations. But what happens when your father turns those secrets into a book instead that makes you almost infamous? Yup, definitely becomes one for the books. Maggie Holt has lived her entire life in the shadow of the house she escaped with her family 25 years ago and the past that her dad turned into a memoir. Now, given the ownership of the house and putting it up for sale, Maggie has to return back one more time. On her return, the homecoming is anything but sweet. She has to contend with the angry people of the town who are not glad to be part of the famous memoir without their consent, and she learns that her dad might not have been all that transparent about what happened all those nights ago.

The Majesties cover image

The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao

Gwendolyn and Estella have always been close, close as sisters. They have relied on each other to navigate their family’s deceitful and twisted games. But, now Gwendolyn lies in a coma, a victim of Estella’s attempt to poison the whole clan.

What instigated this brutal act? Was it the mysterious death of an aunt, an unhappy marriage or the never-ending secrets catching up to them? Set in the opulent world of rising Indonesia. this book tells the story of a family’s fortune, the cost they incurred, and how it all came crashing down.

cover of Talented Ribkins: a cartoonish illustration of a car driving across the page with red arrows pointing in different directions

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

Johnny Ribkins has been fortunate to make it to 72 years old, but recent developments are putting future birthdays in peril. Johnny’s past is filled with crimes committed with his deceased half-brother Franklin, and together they buried cash and jewelry all over the state of Florida. Strapped for cash in the present, he decides to revisit these sites. Accompanying him is his 13-year-old niece, Eloise, who has secrets of her own. Together Johnny and Eloise take a journey across the roads of America searching for cash, and for meaning in their family history.

Murder in Old Bombay book cover

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

This is a transporting historical mystery novel that takes the reader to the Bombay of the 1920s. It tells the story of Captain Jim Agnihotri who is recovering from war wounds in a hospital when he comes across a mysterious case in the newspaper involving the deaths of two girls. When he is approached by the family to look into it, what he finds is a dark web of lies and dark family secrets. This is a book that gives the impression of being breezy but actually harbors a dark truth about the history of colonial Bombay.


All of the above picks are dark and atmospheric, but if you are looking to add more family drama to your dark secrets, then check out these family drama-filled books.