On a foggy Halloween night, police pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson is called to a murder scene by Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway, where she is shocked to find one of her college friends, Ligeia Willard, staked through the heart. Ligeia was a scientist at a stem cell research institute and the subject of malice from organized protestors on the outside, and vengeful colleagues and a jilted lover on the inside.
Withdrawing from the investigation because of her personal connection, not to mention her grief, Laura stays with another old college friend Ellen Jacoby. Then things start to get weird.
Her next case is at an address that's all too familiar — the house she once shared with Ligeia, Ellen, and two male friends, Alec and Peter. A young woman, Rowena, has been murdered in the room that used to belong to Ligeia. Ominously, a message on the refrigerator refers to both Ligeia and Laura.
This makes Laura a person of interest in both cases, commencing a nightmare in which she finds herself a suspect in three homicides.
With instinct telling Lewis that his friend can't possibly be involved, but the accumulating evidence pointing otherwise, he and Hathaway begin looking into Laura's past, searching for her old housemates Alec and Peter and frantically looking for answers.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Police pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson appears to be deeply implicated in a series of murders with ties to her past, specifically to the house she shared in the early 1980s with four classmates at Oxford University: Ligeia Willard, Ellen Jacoby, Alec Pickman, and Peter Hawkins.
First, Ligeia is found murdered outside the stem cell research institute where she works. Called to the scene by Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway, who don't realize that she knows the victim, Laura is stunned to see her old friend staked through the heart. Badly shaken, she is taken off the case — her connection deemed no more than a coincidence.
However, next a young woman named Rowena has her throat slit in the very house where Laura lived with her college pals. On the refrigerator, magnetic letters spell out an incriminating message. Filling in the gaps, it reads: LIGEIA WILLARD / MURDER / L. HOBSON / HELP ME / FIND MARY GWILLIAM. Laura is now officially a suspect.
Then, searching for Mary Gwilliam, Sergeant Hathaway discovers that she is a retired nurse who once worked for a shady adoption agency, and that she, too, has had been murdered. However, her connection to Laura is unclear.
At this point, the case has accumulated an assortment of suspicious characters, including psychic Ursula van Tessel, who promotes herself by intruding into the investigation; her recent lover, Victor, who was Rowena's last flame; Vince and Charlotte, a watchful young couple who live with their colicky baby across from Laura's old house; Laura's alcoholic former housemate, Alec, who once dated Ligeia; and Ligeia's colleagues at work, who either have thwarted romantic attachments or severe policy conflicts with her.
The key to the mystery turns out to be Peter, the only unaccounted-for member of Laura's Oxford five-some. Lewis and Hathaway track down his twin sister, who tells them that he committed suicide years earlier after coming down with Fatal Familial Insomnia, a genetic disorder that causes increasing sleeplessness, madness, and eventually death.
Before Peter's demise, the romantic intrigue among his Oxford housemates had led to an evening when he raped Ligeia, leaving her pregnant. Angry at Laura, who she mistakenly believed had stolen Alec, her true love, Ligeia registered under Laura's name at the hospital where she delivered a twin boy and girl. Mary Gwilliam arranged for their adoption by different families.
Brought up separately, Ligeia's son and daughter grew up, met, and married. When they had trouble having children, they had genetic tests and discovered their relationship. They also began to succumb to the disease passed on to them by Peter. This star-crossed couple is none other than Vince and Charlotte; their baby doesn't exist and its crying is only a recording.
Diabolically, they have been wreaking revenge for their illness on Laura, the mother they traced through hospital records: hence the murder of Laura's old friend Ligeia (who they don't realize is their real mother), the murder of Rowena at the house where Laura once lived (and where they knew she would be called as police pathologist), and the murder of the woman their mother appointed for their adoption.
In their climactic act of retribution, Vince and Charlotte are on the verge of burying Laura alive at the hospital where they were born, when Lewis and Hathaway arrive. In the ensuing struggle, Vince throws himself down a stairwell to his death, with his sister trying to follow. But she is saved by Lewis for the inevitable fate decreed by her disease.