Book Review: Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
Just in time to kick-off spooky season, Alice Feeney has delivered a classic closed-room whodunit. The place is Seaglass, the family home of Daisy Darker. Situated on the Cornish coast, surrounded by black sand, Seaglass is cut off from the mainland during high tide. Inside are eighty clocks tick-tocking away, an eccentric Nana, and a lot of secrets.
When the Darker family assembles at the house on Halloween for Nana’s birthday, it’s an uncomfortable situation. Nana’s son is divorced from his wife, who has agreed to come to the celebration anyway. The three granddaughters Rose, Lily, and the titular Daisy, don’t get along. The great-granddaughter is sensitive. And the neighbor boy-man just kinda shows up. For those who have had awkward Thanksgivings, you can understand this might not be the most idyllic situation.
For Daisy Darker, however, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with her family and, perhaps, to find out the truth.
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney has all the classic mystery elements. A great, creepy, inescapable setting reminiscent of Clue? Check. A messed-up family dynamic filled with secrets and lies? Check. Creative murders? Checkity-check. Plot twists and turns? You betcha.
During the course of the evening, eighty-year-old Nana announces the contents of her will early, so everyone understands what to expect after her passing. Basically, everything goes to her great-granddaughter, Trixie.
This news goes about as well as can be expected within an emotionally stunted family. Everyone flips out except for Daisy, who is only saddened because she loves Seaglass and all its eccentricities the most. But she loves her niece too, and Trixie wouldn’t hurt her. They have a close relationship.
However, the awkward dinner is only the beginning to a harrowing evening. With the tide fully in, they can’t leave the house until daybreak. After everyone has presumably gone to bed, a scream sounds through the house. Daisy rushes downstairs to find Nana, unconscious on the kitchen floor. Blood is everywhere. At first, it seems that Nana just had a terrible, tragic fall.
Then they find the chalk poem on the kitchen wall.
Daisy Darker’s family were as dark as dark can be.
When one of them died, all of them lied, and pretended not to see.
Daisy Darker’s nana was the oldest but least wise.
The woman’s will made them all feel ill, which was why she had to die.
Daisy Darker’s father lived life dancing to his own tune.
His self-centered ways, and the pianos he played, danced him to his doom.
Daisy Darker’s mother was an actress with the coldest heart.
She didn’t love all her children, and deserved to lose her part.
Daisy Darker’s sister Rose was the eldest of the three.
She was clever and quiet and beautiful, but destined to die lonely.
Daisy Darker’s sister Lily was the vainest of the lot.
She was a selfish, spoiled, entitle witch, one who deserved to get shot.
Daisy Darker’s niece was a precocious little child.
Like all abandoned ducklings, she would not fare well in the wild.
Daisy Darker’s secret story was one someone sadly had to tell.
But her broken heart was just the start of what will be her last farewell.
Daisy Darker’s family wasted far too many years lying.
They spent their final hours together learning lessons before dying.
True to its prophecy, one by one the Darker family dies, which has earned this novel several comparisons to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Each time a little more of the family history is revealed and the layers are peeled back. Family videotapes show up at the crime scenes, showing key moments in the family’s story. Hour by hour, Daisy survives but learns one terrible thing after another.
Daisy knows her family members have been keeping things from her, but she never expected the Darker family to be so… dark. Especially her sisters. The relationship between the three of them drives the main plot of the story forward.
Rose, the eldest, is a veterinarian and is the quintessential big sister. Organized, focused, and an overachiever. She appears to be the voice of reason and Daisy likes her much more than Lily.
Lily, the middle child, is their mother’s favorite. She lives with Mom and her daughter, Trixie-the-heir-apparent, but doesn’t have a job or much in the way of prospects. She always wanted whatever Rose had and found Daisy to be a pain.
Daisy, much younger than both of them, just wanted to be included in whatever they did—from Easter pageants to teen parties. She even crushed on the same boy-next-door. Her heart condition, however, kept her close to Seaglass, experiencing the world from a distance.
The interactions between these three provide the main conflicts, both in the present circumstance and in the flashback sequences of Daisy’s memory. It’s fascinating to watch the strange cruelties and the sparks of love they deliver to one another, sometimes moving from meanness to affection within moments.
Daisy Darker is perfect autumn reading. The sense of place is hypnotic—you can practically hear the ocean right outside the door. It’s easy to sympathize with Daisy and her longing to have an affectionate family, and also pity her for being stuck with these people. Everything takes place on Halloween and that seems just perfect for this closed-room story.