Audiobook Review: Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (August 30, 2022)
Length: 10 hrs and 54 mins
Narrators: Stephanie Racine
Alice Feeney said in the author’s note that Daisy Darker was the favorite of her novels, and after reading it, well, I guess I will have to share in that sentiment! It has a different feel than her previous books; rather than having a domestic psychological thriller vibe, this one was definitely more eerie and atmospheric. Despite a few over-the-top twists and some predictability, I found this to be a captivating and compulsive page-turner.
The eponymous protagonist of this novel, Daisy Darker, was born with a broken heart. Her cardiac deformity prevented her from going to school, hanging out with friends, or doing anything normal kids are supposed to do. It was just too risky, considering Daisy had had to be resuscitated from the brink of death multiple times before, spending months of her life recuperating in hospitals. As a result, she was never close to her two older sisters Rose and Lily, who were sent off to boarding school and were able to go off to live their lives. Daisy was never that close to her parents either. After their divorce, her composer dad was always on the road traveling with his orchestra and her flighty mom became distant, retreating into her own little world.
In fact, the only person Daisy was close to was her grandmother. Nana was an illustrator who made her name writing a children’s book inspired by her youngest granddaughter. During her childhood, Daisy loved to spend her summers at Seaglass, Nana’s huge gothic mansion situated on an island that was only accessible at low tide. And now she is back again, as an adult, here to celebrate her grandmother’s eightieth birthday on Halloween. Nana has invited the whole family, and it will be the first time in many years that the whole Darker clan has been together. There’s her son, Frank. His ex-wife, Nancy. Their three daughters, Daisy, Rose, and Lily. Lily’s teenage daughter, Trixie. And finally, Connor, a family friend whom they have all known since he was a boy.
The night before Nana’s big day though, a huge storm rolls in, cutting Seaglass off from the rest of civilization. And a few minutes after midnight, the house is awakened to a commotion. Daisy finds her grandmother at the foot of the stairs, dead from an apparent fall. But was it really an accident? And what is the meaning of the strange, ominous message on the wall above her body, written in chalk? Trapped on the island, there’s nowhere to run and no one to turn to for help. And as the night draws on, more bodies begin to pile up.
Intriguing doesn’t even begin to describe it. The characters are the best part of this novel, larger-than life figures against the backdrop of an old gothic house by the sea. Members of the Darker family feel just as nostalgic, even if most of them are downright repugnant. Most eccentric of all is probably Nana, a kind but iron-willed old lady who collects antique clocks and makes everyone clock in with a punch card every time they visit. The rest of her clan, however, are not quite as well put together. Frank’s orchestra is losing him more money than it takes in. Nancy is in love with only herself, never letting her ex-husband and their daughters forget that she could have been a movie star had she not gotten pregnant in her first year of college. Rose is a veterinarian who makes it clear she enjoys the company of her animals to that of people. Lily is a grown woman who still lives off of handouts from her parents and grandmother, and is emotionally and verbally abusive to her daughter Trixie. And then there’s Daisy, who had been shut away from the world for so long, people tend to forget she’s even there. Her heart condition reminds them of her fragility, which makes them all feel guilty and uncomfortable.
Fair warning though, the plot requires mucho suspension of disbelief. Again, it’s one of those affectations of the novel that harkens back to the Agatha Christie days, where the puzzle itself is more important than the details. As long as you can accept that, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this book and its claustrophobic, suspenseful atmosphere as the chapters gradually countdown to dawn when the tides will recede, making the island accessible again. And then there’s the final twist, which is another nod to an old classic. Cheers if you can figure it out before the big reveal, for I wouldn’t say that it was completely unexpected, but Feeney did cover her tracks really well, and by the end you will want to go back to the beginning again to see what clues you may have missed!
And of course, brava to Stephanie Racine, the narrator of the audiobook. I’ve loved her performances for the author’s other novels, and she delivered a knockout for this one as well, giving life to the characters and making this story a wonderful roller coaster ride of unforgettable surprises and twists.