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A Flicker in the Dark
(Review, Summary & Spoilers)

By Stacy Willingham



Book review and synopsis for A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham, A mystery-thriller about a woman whose father is a convicted serial killer.

Synopsis

In A Flicker in the Dark, Chloe Davis is a psychologist from a small Louisiana town whose father confessed to murdering six teenaged girls when she was 12.

20 years later, her life begins to unravel when local teens start to go missing, and Chloe starts to suspect someone around her may be involved.

(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)

Detailed Plot Summary

Section-by-Section Summary
See the Section-by-Section Summary of A Flicker in the Dark
Quick Plot Summary

The two-paragraph version: Chloe's father confessed to murdering six teenaged girls when she was 12. Chloe was the one who found the evidence that linked him to the murder in his closet and turned it over to the police. Now, 20 years later, two more teenaged girls have been found dead. Chloe starts to suspect that her fiancée Daniel is a copycat killer since he also had a sister who disappeared under mysterious circumstances 20 years ago.

In the end, it's revealed that the murderer was Cooper, her older brother, and her father had protected him. Daniel had an abusive father, so he faked Sophie's disappearance and made it seem like one of the missing girls in order to protect her.


Chloe Davis is from a small Louisiana town called Breaux Bridge. Her father, Richard Davis, was convicted of murdering six teenaged girls over the course of one summer when Chloe was 12. Now, 20 years later, Chloe is working as a psychiatrist in Baton Rouge and is recently engaged to her fiancée Daniel Briggs. It's late May when a teenaged girl nearby, Aubrey Gravino, goes missing and her dead body is soon found. Shortly after, 15-year-old Lacey Deckler, one of Chloe's patients, is the second girl to go missing.

Back in July 1998, a 15-year-old Lena Rhodes was the first girl to go missing, followed by 5 more teenaged girls over the course of that summer. It was rumored that perhaps there were other missing girls, too. Chloe had known Lena well, and Lena seemed to have a crush on Chloe's 15-year-old older brother Cooper.

In present day, Chloe is brought into the police station to be interrogated by Detective Thomas since she was the last person to see Lacey alive. Afterwards, Chloe goes to visit her mother, Mona, at the assisted living facility. Mona attempted suicide after her father's sentencing, resulting in brain damage that left her unable to move or speak. Chloe and Cooper try to visit her occassionally. Today, Chloe tells Mona about the recent missing girls. She also promises to bring by her fiancée Daniel sometime.

Cooper disapproves of Daniel, but Cooper has always been overprotective of Chloe. Daniel works as a pharmaceuticals sales rep, and he travels a lot for work. Chloe recalls how refreshing it was that Daniel didn't know who she was (daught of the infamous murder) or anything about the Breaux Bridge murders when they met. Daniel also had a sister, Sophie, who went missing around that same time in 1998.

A few days later, Lacey Deckler's body is found in the alleyway outside Chloe's office. When Chloe sees the body, she recognizes that a bracelet that Lacey had been wearing is missing. When Chloe later asks Detective Thomas about Aubrey, Chloe pieces together that Aubrey was missing a necklace that matched with the earring they found on her.

Back in 1998, the killer had also been taking pieces of jewelry from each of his victims (though this wasn't public knowledge). Chloe recalls how she'd found a box of jewelry in her father's closet and recognized one of the pieces as belonging to Lena. Her mother had taken her to the police station to tell the Sheriff. Chloe had also told them about how she saw her father behind their house with a shovel one night. Later that night, her father was arrested for murder. He eventually confessed as part of a plea deal where he was also required to disclose the location of the bodies.

In present day, Chloe agrees to talk to Aaron Jansen, a reporter from the New York Times who has been contacting Chloe lately about a story he's writing about the 20th anniverary of the Breaux Bridge murders. As they talk, Aaron suggests that the recent murders could be the work of a copycat killer who is obsessed with the Breaux Bridge murders.

Chloe knows that only her family, the police and the victims families knew about the missing jewelry in connection with the Breaux Bridge murders. She begins to suspect that perhaps Lena Rhodes's father, Bert, could be the copycat killer since he had always been a little off. Lena once had hinted that her parents would do things like lock her in her room. When Chloe asks Aaron for help looking into Bert, it turns out that he has been in and out of jail for the last 15 years for various offenses like DUI and assault.

As Chloe does some research on Bert, she learns that he's now living in Baton Rouge and runs a home security installation company. As she looks at the page, Daniel walks in on her and assumes that Chloe is feeling unsafe because of the recent murders and wants to install a home security system. Daniel ends up calling the number on the website before he leaves for a work trip, and Bert shows up at their door. When Chloe talks to him, he tells her how much he hates her family, but ends up installing the system and leaving. (Shortly after, Detective Thomas looks into Bert at Chloe's request, but ends up certain it's a dead end.)

Soon, Chloe's home alarm accidentally goes off, and Chloe anxiously goes into the closet to look for Daniel's gun. Instead, she finds the necklace that matches with Aubrey Gravino's earrings in his closet. Right after, there is an emergency regarding Chloe's mother at the assisted living facility. Chloe ends up with Daniel and Cooper at the facility with her mother Mona. When Chloe has a moment alone with Mona, Mona communicates with Chloe by tapping her finger and indicates that she knows something about the recent murders. She then taps out the letters "D" and "A" before they are interrupted.

When Chloe returns home, the necklace is missing. Chloe then tells Daniel that she's going away that weekend. She lies and says it's a bachelorette party to New Orleans. Instead, Chloe meets up with Aaron at a motel 40 minutes away to continue their investigation. Chloe shows Aaron some receipts indicating that Daniel has been spending time in the area where her father is incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

She takes Aaron to go talk to Dianne Briggs (Sophie and Daniel's mother) to ask about Sophie's disappearance under the guise of being a reporter. Dianne doesn't know Chloe is, since she's not in touch with Daniel. Dianne says that Daniel left after high school and never came back, and she suspects Daniel had something to do with Sophie's disappearance. As they look in on Daniel's childhood room, Chloe finds a stack of clippings about the Breaux Bridge murders, and she knows he was lying about not knowing about it when they first met. Before they leave, Dianne gets upset when she recognizes Chloe's ring as a ring that once belonged to Sophie and was a family hierloom, and she demands to know why Chloe has it.

The next day, Chloe awakes to learn that Riley, her friend's stepdaughter is missing. By now, Chloe is certain that Daniel is the killer. She knows that the killer has been killing the girls and then leaving the bodies somewhere to be found a few days later. As she thinks of where Daniel could be keeping these bodies, she remembers that she told him about how her childhood is still sitting, empty in Breaux Ridge.

Chloe, armed with Daniel's gun, drives back to her childhood home and finds Riley drugged on unconscious on the floor. She's shocked to find Aaron there (who says something about being forced to do this), and she ends up shooting him. Later, Detective Thomas tells Chloe that Aaron is really someone named Tyler Price, a high school dropout from Breaux Ridge.

Back at home, Chloe confronts Daniel about Sophie, accusing him of killing her. Daniel denies it. He says that his father Earl was an abusive drunk and that he helped Sophie disappear after his father turned his attentions on Sophie. He admits to knowing about the Breaux Bridge murders and says that he wanted to make people think she was one of the missing girls. Sophie is alive and living in Mississippi.

Daniel also admits to visiting Chloe's father Richard n prison, since there were parts of the story that didn't line up for him. In doing so, he learned that Richard wasn't the killer.

When Cooper comes over, Chloe confronts him about being the real killer all those years ago and about the recent murders. She realizes now that Cooper planted the necklace in her house to incriminate Daniel. He's been wanting to separate her from Daniel because he knew Daniel suspected something.

Cooper admits to all the killings, plus one more (Tara King) who was the actual first girl. It turns out their father found all the jewelry hidden under his floorboards but Cooper convinced him not to say anything. However, Chloe ended up finding it in the closet. Chloe also realizes her father must have told her mother the truth before he was arrested, and her mother kept the secret but it caused her to unravel. As for Tyler, he was just a lonely person who Cooper convinced to help in his plans.

Chloe has spiked Cooper's drink, so he gets drowsy and is soon arrested. Chloe's father is released from prison. The book ends with Chloe going to visit Sophie in Mississippi to return her ring to her.

For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.

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Book Review

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham is a mystery-thriller from a debut author that is was released today. I infrequently read advance copies of mystery-thrillers from debut authors since I like to see how the review shake out before investing time reading these types of books. However, I was drawn in by the premise and the early positive reviews, so I decided to give it a shot.

In A Flicker in the Dark, Chloe Davis is a psychiatrist whose father was convicted of a series of murders of young girls when she was 12 years old. Now, 20 years later, when girls start to go missing again, her memories of that terrible summer come rushing back…

I would say the main strong points of this book are the compelling premise and a mostly solidly plotted-out mystery. The killer is pretty guessable, but there’s also enough other suspects and possibilities to keep you on your toes. I think it did a good job of planting clues while offering up enough snarls in the plot to make it a little less obvious. Some of the smaller details make less sense than I’d ideally like, but those were mostly more minor aspects of the story.

If you’re someone who likes to “figure out” murder mysteries before the killer is revealed, this one might be a good pick for you. (And there’s a decent chance you’ll probably figure it out.) I felt like the resolution was reasonable enough that it made the book feel worthwhile to read. Also, if you like serial-killer-type murder mysteries in general, I think this one makes good use of its serial-killer-y components.

Some Criticisms

So, overall, I thought this was a decent mystery-thriller as far as books in this genre go.

Still, I think one issue for me was that the overall tone of the book was a little dour and depressing, and not in a good way. The main character has PTSD due to her father’s murder conviction, and she has a pill-popping problem. This basically means that she’s kind of an unstable, anxious wreck throughout the entire book, and I generally don’t tend to like protagonists like that. I just find them tiresome, and I don’t think it’s a fun or interesting headspace to read about for 300 pages.

To be fair, this type of protagonist pops up a lot in mystery-thrillers, and I never really like it. So, I realize my opinion on this is fairly subjective and perhaps you won’t mind it so much.

Beyond that, she and other characters also behave in mildly nonsensical ways like withholding information and doing incriminating things in obvious ways. I understand why this happens in mystery-thrillers, but it did feel a little contrived.

Read it or Skip it?

I thought A Flicker in the Dark was decently plotted thriller with a good premise. I appreciated the carefully planted clues and the reasonable ending. Perhaps some of the character’s actions could have been a little less nonsensical occasionally, but overall I would consider the plotting of it to be mostly solid. There are a few details around the edges that could have been a bit neater, but the main contours of it works.

I have a hard time being super enthusiastic about it mostly because I just don’t tend to enjoy thrillers focused on depressed, anxious protagonists with substance abuse problems. It just gives the whole book a kind of a tiresome, lugubrious atmosphere, which is not my favorite.

That said, while I wasn’t blown away by this book, I’d say A Flicker in the Dark is worth checking out if you’re looking for something for your mystery-thriller queue.

See A Flicker in the Dark on Amazon.

Spoiler-ish Thoughts

SPOILERS START HERE. You’ve been warned!

There were a few aspects of the plot that I think could have been done better. The whole thing about Lena knowing about Tara King’s murder seemed unnecessary and made no sense. She witnessed a murder and decided to provoke the killer over the course of three weeks instead of going to the police? Nonsense. Why would she keep hanging around his house? It’s even more annoying since it’s a completely unnecessary detail. Just say that Cooper killed her since she was a bad influence on his sister or cause he just wanted to and be done with it.

Also, about Tyler participating in Cooper’s plot out of the sheer charisma of his personality. That was … ehh. I think with the right setup maybe I could have bought it, but either way it’s definitely a weak point in the plot.

Also, what was up with Daniel sitting in the dark waiting for Chloe to come home and her not realizing from the video footage that he never left? It’s another unnecessary detail that seems kind of nonsensical. How could she not realize from watching the footage that he didn’t leave the house?

A Flicker in the Dark Audiobook

Narrated by: Karissa Vacker
Length: 11 hours

Hear a sample of the A Flicker in the Dark audiobook on Libro.fm.

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of A Flicker in the Dark

Movie / TV Show Adaptation

See Everything We Know About the 'A Flicker in the Dark' Adaptation



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