One By One They Die
Author: Alice Feeney
In an isolated ocean mansion cut off from land by high tide, 80 clocks are chiming on the wall and one old woman lies murdered beneath a cryptic poem about her dysfunctional family. Her family has gathered around her on this Halloween night, her 80th birthday. They all hoped to inherit. They all had reason, opportunity, and motive.
As the clocks chime each hour, another family member goes missing, another family member dies. Someone is culling the heirs; someone is willing to do anything for Nana’s money. Slowly, lines are crossed out on the poem. It seems that everyone must learn a lesson, must face the darkest part of their history, of who they are and every horrible thing they have ever done, before they die. Is this really about money, or is it about revenge, or both? As the clocks tick and the tide keeps rising, the surviving Darker family members try to keep safe, try to figure out who the killer is, try to survive until low tide and dawn.
Daisy Darker is the perfect atmospheric mystery with a gothic seaside charm, a dash of intrigue, greedy characters with evil pasts, and of course, the one silent person who watches it all. Daisy was born with a broken heart, literarily. Her parents did not think she would survive long, and she was never cherished. Only Nana cared about her, protected her from her sisters, and now Nana is murdered. Daisy remains ignored as the rest of the family scrambles to survive. So, as always, she waits in the wings and watches, wondering which member of her family is the murderer.
Daisy is an empathetic, multifaceted character. She is also a downtrodden figure with a volatile undertone that leads us at points in the story to suspect even her. The Darker family, after all, has a history of backstabbing and Daisy, perhaps more than the others, has a reason to want revenge.
Beyond the cleverness and complexity of the plot, Daisy Darker was just a pleasure to read for the atmosphere. Seaglass, the mansion, is perfectly cozy in a drizzly-evening-at-home-by-the-fire-with-a-book way. It is spooky and yet, irresistible. I want this sheltered house with its secrets and ticking clocks, its eccentricities and creativity, it’s brooding, creative mystery.
As the story goes along, breathless, Alice Feeney keeps the pace well set. Each hour we have another clever murder, a revelation about that person proceeding just before. Old family home movies reveal a lot, and Daisy takes us back to the sunny days of her childhood where the animosities and internal betrayals all began. Against those sun-soaked memories, someone saw to the underbelly, and someone is teaching the remaining Darkers a slow, painful lesson. This approach keeps the plot going while giving us time to think, to try out clues, to attempt to fit the Darkers’ lives and deaths together like a puzzle.
Now, I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is apparently an influence on Daisy Darker, as well as a total plot giveaway (I am told). So, for me, reading Daisy Darker the first time left me shocked by the revelations on revelations. Looking back, I see how Feeney set up the readers to expect one set of circumstances and yet, all the while, have the stage cleverly orchestrated for a complete reversal, a flip and a twist. As Goldilocks would say, it was just right.
Daisy Darker is one favorite books. I can see myself re-reading it (a true rarity) to visit Seaglass, to watch Feeney as she subtly weaves the initial clues of her mystery and Daisy’s own internal darkness into a tapestry of toxic family relationships and buried longings. I’ve already recommended this book to one and all, and I continue to bask in the afterglow of a story that is nearly perfect. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden
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