A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham is a great debut novel, giving us everything we expect in a thriller. It’s a twisty and engaging read complete with a suitably flawed but very likeable lead and a myriad of suspects to keep us on our toes.
A Flicker in the Dark
by Stacy Willingham
Published by HarperCollins
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
When Chloe Davis was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, Chloe’s father had been arrested as a serial killer and promptly put in prison. Chloe and the rest of her family were left to grapple with the truth and try to move forward while dealing with the aftermath.
Now 20 years later, Chloe is a psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge and getting ready for her wedding. She finally has a fragile grasp on the happiness she’s worked so hard to get. Sometimes, though, she feels as out of control of her own life as the troubled teens who are her patients. And then a local teenage girl goes missing, and then another, and that terrifying summer comes crashing back. Is she paranoid, and seeing parallels that aren't really there, or for the second time in her life, is she about to unmask a killer?
Flawed protagonists or lead characters are increasingly popular but it’s sometimes hard for authors to balance their faults or foibles with their reliability (as a narrator or storyteller) and their likeability. In Chloe, Willingham’s giving us a character who we engage with effortlessly, but realising we cannot entirely rely on her accounts of everything – not because she’s lying to us – but because [of her past trauma and current drug-taking] she’s possibly lying to herself. It means we’re offered another potential suspect… whether they know it or not.
Willingham also introduces Chloe’s fiance Daniel – who she can’t believe she’s snagged as he’s almost too good to be true. And then there’s her brother Cooper. He dislikes Daniel and doesn’t believe he can be trusted. And finally we meet New York Times journalist Aaron… in town to do a piece on Chloe’s father as the twentieth anniversary of his killing spree nears.
I really liked Daniel so was disappointed when we learn a bit more about him. We get the sense he’s a little controlling with Chloe, but Cooper is equally protective of his little sister. It’s a role he took on even before their father was imprisoned and one he doesn’t want to give up easily.
The copycat murders seem coincidental at first, so we do wonder if Chloe is the only one revisiting the events of her childhood… until it’s obvious the killer is trying to get her attention. Again Willingham does a good job of dropping in backstory about Chloe’s past to have us questioning the suppositions she’s making.
I actually guessed the big twist here but that was early on and Willingham offers us a few others, which I didn’t see coming, before the final ‘reveal’. And she’s paced them really well so they feel like they just keep coming at the end.
A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.