reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Daisy Darker was born with a heart defect that would cause her heart to stop seven times before she was 13. Each time she was resuscitated in time, but was told that even with treatment and surgery she would likely not live to be an adult.
Daisy’s mother refused to send her to school like her older sisters Rose and Lily, keeping her home where books were her only companions. Daisy’s musician father was constantly travelling with his orchestra, so whenever her mother needed a break, Daisy would be sent to stay with her somewhat eccentric grandmother, Beatrice.
Beatrice, an author and illustrator of children’s books wrote a popular bestseller, ‘Daisy Darker’s Little Secret’, for her favourite granddaughter. She also collected clocks in her hallway, one for each birthday, which would all chime at once. Daisy spent many happy days in her childhood at ‘Seaglass’, her grandmother’s ancient, decaying mansion, on a tiny tidal island on the Cornish coast, that would be cut off from the rest of the world when the tide came in. Daisy loved it best when her sisters were home from boarding school for the holidays, especially when a local boy, Conor would come to visit and play with them.
On Halloween 2004, Daisy’s dysfunctional family gather at ‘Seaglass’ to celebrate her grandmother’s 80th birthday, and also because she wants to read them her will. They all arrive before the tide cut off the causeway, knowing that they would be trapped there until it went back out in another eight hours. As the narrator of the novel Daisy recounts the strange and nightmarish events that follow.
The setting is perfect for this Christie-esqe ‘locked room’ mystery. The crumbling old Victorian mansion, cut off from the world by the sea, with a storm raging outside, sets the tone for an atmospheric gothic mystery. As the evening plays out with dinner and the reading of the will, the family member dynamics are revealed as their true natures surface along with their insecurities and grudges against each other. At midnight, just after Beatrice’s eighty clocks have finished chiming, a terrible scream is heard, a body is found and an eerie poem foreshadowing gruesome events has appeared on the board in the kitchen.
As the night goes on and the events play out, memories of Daisy’s childhood are woven in to show how dysfunctional her family are. It seems that Daisy Darker is not the only one keeping a secret. The atmosphere becomes very sinister and creepy with tension slowly building as the time for tide to go back out approaches. There are many red herrings along the way and several big twists at the ending, which are sure to divide readers. For me the twists were unexpected, but felt too contrived in attempting to explain all the events. Perhaps one less major twist requiring less suspension of belief would have sufficed. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the writing, the evocative prose, the horribly flawed characters, the atmospheric setting and the gothic tale.
With thanks to Flatiron Books via Netgalley for a copy to read.