Author: Stacy Willingham
Genre: Crime Thriller
Year Published: 2022
“Nerdection Worth to read”
A common trope of the mystery genre is that there always must be a “gotcha!” moment – a point in the story where everything that every conclusion on the reader’s part is proved wrong. Virtually every novel in the genre has this moment, but only the best in their class introduce their plot twists without falling into cliché or predictability. A Flicker in the Dark, Stacy Willingham’s debut novel, proves that there’s a lot of room for the thriller genre to evolve beyond the need for mere shocks and twists. Using familiar tropes – like the well-trusted unreliable narrator seen in so many noir novels – this novel manages to be both refreshing and familiar to fans of the genre.
Granted, no novel is without its flaws – certainly not A Flicker in the Dark – but, for what it is, the book succeeds as an engaging mystery, one that doesn’t rely too heavily on shock value and keeps you engaged all the way through.
A Flicker in the Dark Spoiler-free Synopsis
May 2019: Chloe Davis, a psychologist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has finally come to terms with the tragic events that transpired in her early teens. Working with troubled adolescents has given her ample time to reflect on her own mental demons, but there are some marks that time alone simply cannot erase.
Twenty years before, a series of disappearances shook Chloe’s quiet Louisiana town. The six girls that went missing were all teenage girls, and in such a small community, the news spread like wildfire. With everyone looking for culprits, the last person Chloe would ever suspect was one of her family members, but she would soon find conclusive evidence that would turn her life upside down.
As it turns out, it was Chloe’s father, Richard, that murdered the girls. With the case closed, Chloe and her family – particularly her older brother, Cooper – struggle to make sense of their new lives.
Back in the present, Chole begins to notice some chilling similarities between a string of disappearances and her father’s case, leading her to believe that the same events that transpired twenty years ago are happening again. However, this time, she begins to doubt her fiancée, Daniel, believing him to be a copycat killer following the traces of her father.
It’s a race against time as Chloe aims to unmask Daniel before it’s too late, even as she discovers that the truth behind both cases is as painful as can be.
Great Plot – Unpolished Protagonist
It’s clear that Stacy Willingham crafted the story of A Flicker in the Dark with utmost attention to detail in almost every aspect of the plot. Beyond the usual conventions of the “whodunit” genre, every plot twist makes perfect sense within the limitations of the novel’s narrative.
Red herrings are kept to a bearable amount, making the story feel like a real case of detective work that the reader can try to solve using subtle hints scattered throughout the plot. Each new development gets explained and justified, even though the actions of some of the characters might feel a bit rushed or downright nonsensical at times.
An area where there might be some contention involves both the novel’s protagonist and the book’s narrative style.
Narrating from the first-person perspective in a mystery novel is nothing new for the genre. Even Arthur Conan Doyle did it in the many memorable adventures of Sherlock Holmes – but the difference here is that it was not Holmes who was narrating these stories; it was Watson, his accomplice and rarely the one who came up with some of the more complex deductions.
In A Flicker in the Dark‘s case, the story is told in the first person from Chloe’s perspective. While the use of the present tense throughout the novel makes the reader feel a bit more engrossed by the events in the story, it’s undeniably a bit of a letdown for those readers who were hoping to read a more traditionally narrated novel.
Another piece of bad news comes from Chloe’s character. As we mentioned before, the novel is told from her perspective, so the reader will have to spend 300-ish pages living in her headspace – and that is not a nice place to visit, I can assure you.
While troubled protagonists are the bread and butter of the mystery and thriller genres, Chloe’s PTSD and rising anxiety levels can get on the readers’ nerves rather quickly.
Evidently, A Flicker in the Dark‘s main strength lies in its contrived killer mystery. However, before we get to that, it’s worth mentioning that the next section will discuss the identity and motivation behind the copycat killer.
Let There Be Spoilers
The huge reveal at the end of A Flicker in the Dark is that yes, there was only one murder the whole time – and, no, it wasn’t Chloe’s dad. The serial killer that terrorized Louisiana twenty years ago and is now stalking teenagers in 2019, is none other than Chloe’s brother, Cooper.
Chloe learns that her father, Richard, was just protecting Cooper when he confessed to the murders. Daniel, Chloe’s fiancée, was not a murderer at all and was just acting suspiciously for the sake of the plot. He did help her sister disappear from their household some years back, but that was due to their abusive father.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some clues here and there that might lead the reader to the killer’s real identity early on in the book, but the author does a great job framing them as mere coincidences and red herrings.
Still, there are some moments when it’s heavily – and I mean heavily – implied that Daniel would be the real killer. So much so, that it becomes crystal clear that Daniel is not the one who committed the murders. On the other hand, Cooper’s jealousy and distrust of Daniel are clear indicators for veterans of the genre that not everything is what it seems with Chloe’s brother.
Among the novel’s red herrings is a character named Tyler Price. While his character serves as a somewhat limited deception for the reader, the fact that we’re supposed to believe that he was inclined to help Cooper with his plans just because he’s such a charming guy is a bit difficult to believe.
Closing Thoughts on A Flicker in the Dark
Despite its somewhat unlikable protagonist, the drama and compelling thriller elements in A Flicker in the Dark make this novel a worthwhile read for fans of the genre. The “gotcha” moment is immensely pleasing once you’ve pieced all the evidence together, and the fact that it solves not just one, but two different cases in a satisfying manner is just the icing on the cake.
Worth A Read?
Absolutely, though the fact that the plot twist plays such a pivotal role in the novel means that repeat readings might not have the same effect once you already know every twist and turn in the plot.
At 349 pages for the ebook version of the novel, A Flicker in the Dark is more than worth the cost of admission if you’re looking for an exciting thriller that will have you spending nights reading only to reach the book’s satisfying end.
About the Author of A Flicker in the Dark
Stacy Willingham is the New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of A Flicker in the Dark and All The Dangerous Things.
She earned her BA in magazine journalism from the University of Georgia and MFA in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Before turning to fiction, she was a copywriter and brand strategist for various marketing agencies. Her books are being translated in over 30 languages.
She lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband, Britt, and Labradoodle, Mako, where she is always working on her next book. [StacyWillingham]