As we head into the holiday season, Daisy Darker reminds us that some families should forgo the traditional reunions. In fact, some families should never have been formed at all.
The Darkers have not gathered at Seaglass, their mansion by the Cornish coast, for ages, but this is a milestone year - Nana is turning eighty. A palm reader at a Land’s End fair had told her that her Octogintennial celebration will be her last, so she’s determined to go out with a bang and make a festive occasion of it. Her son Frank, his ex-wife Nancy, their adult daughters Lily, Rose and Daisy as well as granddaughter Trixie all make the five hour trek from London to Cornwall with a mix of reluctance and anticipation. Reluctance because the house is inconveniently isolated, cut off from the mainland at night by the tide and is also uncomfortable, a decrepit, rather musty manse that is practically crumbling into the sea. Anticipation because Nana had not just inherited money but managed to make even more as a children’s author,. Frank and his family are hoping they’ll get a preview of Nana’s will over the next few days.
Daisy is the first to arrive at Seaglass, since she is completely attached to her grandmother and the house she calls home. Most of her family pretends Daisy doesn’t exist but she never misses the chance to spend time with Nana and Trixie. And Conor, the boy who had grown up with the Parker girls and been an object of affection for all of them at one time or another, comes by boat, defying the tide and storms to arrive at Seaglass before the thirty-first of October, Nana’s official eightieth birthday.
It doesn’t take any time at all for the fighting to begin. Nana and Frank start sparring when he walks in the door, barbs and insults are traded throughout the evening and murder is discussed at the dinner table. Nana’s will infuriates pretty much everyone, as the only person receiving a dime is Trixie. So it comes as no surprise when she is found dead later that evening in her kitchen, a bloody gash on her head. The only question is, was it an accident or murder? That’s answered an hour later, when the next family member perishes.
They can’t leave. Connor’s boat is gone and the tide has turned their peninsula into an island. They can’t call for help. Nana had discontinued her landline and there’s no mobile signal. As the eighty clocks that line the walls of Seaglass cheerily chime away the hours of the night, the Darker family starts to fall one by one. Will there be anyone left to face the dawn?
This a truly twisty thriller where giving away any information may upend the whole mystery, so I won’t be discussing the plot. As I got ready to write about the people I realized that the narrative is completely character driven and discussing them in any meaningful detail will also give away too much knowledge about what drives the storyline. Like many psychological thrillers on the market right now, the impetus of this novel is surprise and many of those surprises are revealed at the very end of the book. It also relies on the unreliable narrator, although I would call Daisy more clueless than genuinely capricious or dubious. This means that what you think you know will most likely be upended by what you discover in the final pages.This isn’t a story where you’re invited to figure out what is going on; it's more a roller coaster in a scary theme park where the fun comes from yielding yourself to the wild ride you are on.
The tension in the story is centered around the increasing fear and anxiety of the family as well as the examination of their psychology both as a group and as individuals. The Darkers have managed to take all the fun out of dysfunctional and we are left with bitter, petty people who make excellent suspects and unsympathetic victims. The spookiness of the story is intensified by the gothic undertones courtesy of the eerie, isolated location and the chiming clocks reminding the residents (and reader) that time is slipping away from them. The author does an excellent job with most of the elements of this portion - the more you know the Darkers, the more dangerous they become, and this ratchets the suspense up nicely. An especially elegant touch is the old home movies used to show us ‘behind the scenes’ moments which prove this is a fractured family from the start. And the gothic feel is there from almost the first sentence - the gloomy, uncanny ambience of the house and its denizens have that other-world ambience which are the hallmarks of that type of fiction.
Daisy Darker is clearly an homage to several different mystery novels/stories, something readers will grasp fairly quickly as they read through it. How much you enjoy picking up the clues as to which books are referenced will strictly depend on your enjoyment of this style of puzzle.
There are some issues with the tale, however, the main problem being the deep reliance on surprise. One of the big bombshells is easily guessed by the halfway point, causing the shock of it to fizzle, and it also happens to include a particular paranormal trope I’m not that fond of. The other revelations just emphasize how deeply flawed this family is. They were not a pleasure to spend time with and their acerbity is catching; I closed the book with a feeling of disillusionment and a wish that Seaglass had crumbled into the sea at the start of the story.
If you are a huge fan of And Then There Were None or enjoy stories where the paranormal plays a big part of the mystery, then Daisy Darker just might be the book for you. Otherwise, I’d give it a miss.
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