• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

Willingham's debut thriller offers an unreliable narrator haunted by her father's decades-old serial killing--and her horrifying suspicion that recent disappearances are somehow connected to her past.

The summer Chloe Davis was twelve, six girls went missing in her rural Louisiana community. By the end of that summer, Chloe's father had confessed to the crimes of killing those girls, was convicted as a serial killer, and was put in jail for the rest of his life.

Twenty years later, Chloe struggles, but she has more good days than bad. She's a Baton Rouge psychologist who's preparing for her wedding, and she can mostly keep the terrors and trauma of the past at bay. She doesn't really let anyone in emotionally, including her fiancé, but she's doing her best.

When a local young woman goes missing, Chloe fights her rising panic. As another girl disappears, this time one she's tenuously connected to, and when she realizes that aspects of the disappearances echo those of her childhood, the psychologist wonders if she's imagining connections to the crimes of decades earlier. Is there another killer who preys on young women, one paying homage to the twentieth anniversary of her father's heinous crimes? And what is Chloe going to do about it?

When a reporter arrives in town, digging into Chloe's past and the recent disappearances, he sparks disturbing old memories and exacerbates the lurking fears and trauma that erupt for Chloe without warning. She spirals into an unreliable-narrator routine of pills and wine, not quite sure what she's seen or what to make of it, staggering through her days, unsure whether it's day or night and less sure than ever of who she can trust.

Willingham made me suspect everyone, and while I'm sometimes frustrated by an unreliable-narrator setup, Chloe's swirling mind suited the story and allowed for uncertainty before the denouement.

I didn't completely buy into Chloe as a psychologist (although the career suited the plot), and I found some minor plot points tough to believe (going through with the alarm installation in such a fraught situation--!), but I liked how Willingham allowed for resolutions without glossing over the irrevocable effects of the deep doubts and trauma on the relationships in the story.

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A Flicker in the Dark is Stacy Willingham's first book.

The story has been optioned by actress Emma Stone to be produced as a limited television series.