I must begin my review of Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney by saying how much her writing blew me away. I was only 9 pages in and realised I’d flagged quotes I’d like to use – either beautifully written prose or casually delivered poignant insights – and almost filled a page of the notebook I keep beside the bath (where I read).
I sometimes assume the writing in plot-driven books should hover in the background. Unnoticed so as not to distract readers from the unfolding action, but the seemingly effortless eloquence (I very much noticed here) did not detract at all from the plot.
And though I did very much enjoy this book, the fact I’m familiar with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (I’ve read it several times and seen the movie/s, also under previous titles!) meant I kinda knew what was afoot. I didn’t pick all of it, but guessed early in the book what one of the other major twists was. It seemed quite obvious, but think if you didn’t pick it, the book would be hugely shocking and clever.Daisy Darker
by Alice Feeney
Published by Macmillan
Genres: Horror, Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
After years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in Nana’s crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. Finally back together one last time, when the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.
The family arrives, each of them harboring secrets. Then at the stroke of midnight, as a storm rages, Nana is found dead. And an hour later, the next family member follows…
Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide comes in and all is revealed.
Though I guessed some of the twists (on a couple of levels), Feeney is still able to keep secrets and tricks up her sleeve. Daisy, our narrator often comments on things she hasn’t told us – secrets of her own, or stories she’ll share later.
We quickly learn that – with the exception of her Nana – Daisy’s family is fairly horrendous. Daisy’s the youngest of three sisters and their father left the family decades earlier. Daisy was rejected by her mother almost from birth and though Nancy obviously favours her middle child, she’s particularly self-absorbed.
Nancy was very good at growing most things except for children. We never grew fast enough, or tall enough, or pretty enough in her opinion. So she planted seeds of fear as well as doubt all around this house and throughout our childhoods, little saplings rising up through the floorboards, creeping in through the cracks, to remind us what a disappointing crop we were. p 29
The book opens as Daisy’s travelling to the isolated island for her paternal grandmother’s 80th birthday. Many years earlier a tarot card reader told her Beatrice she would die at 80 so she assumes this will be the last chance to see her (mostly estranged) family.
Daisy and her grandmother have a special bond and Daisy’s surprised her grandmother doesn’t see her as ‘broken’ which the rest of her family does given her heart troubles.
Life didn’t break my heart despite trying. The irregular ticking time bomb inside my chest was planted before birth – a rare congenital glitch. p 3
In fact her grandmother made her fortune and kicked off her career by writing and illustrating a children’s book Daisy Darker’s Little Secret.
It’s no secret that Beatrice believes this birthday to be her last and – though she’s given her family handouts in the past, she’s lived frugally and sitting on a fortune – so they’ve gathered hoping to hear of a potential inheritance.
Feeney offers our characters and we readers a very eerie and desolate setting. Incoming tides regularly cut the remote island off and the book counts down the hours until the guests can leave.
In some ways this book crosses from suspense to horror but without the gore you might expect, rather it’s the unapologetic cull of family members with minimal emotion that’s kinda dark and shocking. And with each death the killer leaves a rhyme, citing the victim’s faults or misdeeds.
Our narrator Daisy was the standout here and although she’s not bitter or unhappy Feeney’s brilliant prose gives us some insight into her life.
The invisible shipwrecks of my life are scattered all over this secluded bay with its infamous black sand. They are a sad reminder of all of the journeys I was too scared to make. Everyone’s lives have unchartered waters – the places and people we didn’t quite manage to find – but when you feel as though you never will it’s a special kind of sorrow. The unexplored oceans of our hearts and minds are normally the result of a lack of time and trust in the dreams we dreamt as children. But adults forget how to believe that their dreams might still come true. p 9
I think IF I hadn’t realised one of the key twists early in this novel this book would have blown me away. But even though I knew what was happening (but not why, or all of the details) I still enjoyed it and am reminded to check Feeney’s previous releases to see if they’re as beautifully written.
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney will be published in late August 2022 in Australia by Pan Macmillan.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.