Beatrice Darker, known as Nana to her family, is the matriarch of the Darker clan. She is a successful children’s author and illustrator. Her family has depended on her for babysitting services and to stay financially afloat. While Nana is practical in most things, a fortune teller once told her she would die at the age of eighty and she has always believed it.
On October 30th, the eve of Nana’s 80th birthday, she gathers her entire family to celebrate at her isolated island home. The family includes: Frank Darker, Nana’s son, whose first love is music and whose first inconvenience is the family he created with his ex-wife, Nancy. Nancy Darker, a glamorous ex-housewife, who loves gardening, beautiful things, and her middle child. Rose, the oldest of Nana’s three granddaughters, who is an intelligent but isolated veterinarian who prefers animals to people. Lily, a single mother and the vain beauty of the family, is the middle granddaughter. Daisy, the youngest granddaughter and the narrator, has been sickly her entire life and is the inspiration behind Nana’s most successful book, Daisy Darker’s Little Secret. Trixie, Nana’s great-granddaughter and Lily’s daughter, is the only child in the family and a studious girl who dresses only in pink. Finally, Conor, a neighbor who grew up with the three Darker girls, makes up the final guest of the birthday party.
As the tide cuts off the island from the rest of the world, Nana serves an elaborate meal. The Darker family, who does not often choose to spend time together, makes awkward small talk until the conversation turns to murder. Each family member reveals how they would commit the perfect murder. The shared dark humor is only temporary, and the Darker family soon returns to their usual agenda of personal attacks, with new fuel from recently discovered family home videos. Just after midnight, after everyone is in bed, fifteen-year-old Trixie goes downstairs to find Nana dead on the kitchen floor and a menacing poem written on the kitchen’s blackboard wall. Soon after, the members of the Darker family begin to die, one by one.
Much like Lucy Foley’s brilliant thriller The Guest List, Daisy Darker has serious And Then There Were None vibes, maintaining a delicate balance between clever modern twists and nods to the original inspiration. Daisy, a naive and semi-reliable narrator, is the perfect choice to tell a complicated story. While I did predict a handful of the twists, I was also surprised by many, and I loved how the story came together. Feeney’s writing is suspenseful, and it is the type of story where you get nervous every time a door opens or a noise is heard. The characters, a mix of likeable and unlikeable, are all distinct and compelling. It was my first Alice Feeney book, but it won’t be my last.
On the whole, it is a perfect read for spooky season and would make an ideal book club selection for October.
Book Club Menu
On Halloween Eve, Nana prepares an elaborate and whimsical feast for her family:
“Dinner is a feast–roast chicken, potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, and lashings of gravy. But the gravy is hot chocolate sauce, because Nana thinks everything should be a sweet treat at Halloween. The carrots are loaded in sugar; the puddings are really marshmallows; there are Smarties mixed in with the peas, and popping candy on the potatoes. What looks like melted bread sauce is actually melted vanilla ice cream. The food is both surprising and surprisingly good.”
p. 34, U.S. edition
After this candied roast chicken meal, which is served with lots of white wine, Nana brings out a homemade chocolate cake and champagne.
We’re going to let Nana inspire our book club menus, if in a somewhat less sugary way. We’ll pass on the chocolate gravy and marshmallowy Yorkshire pudding for a more traditional roast chicken meal and opt for a brownie with Halloween candy baked in instead of chocolate birthday cake. (Although if you wanted to write “Happy Birthday, Nana!” on a chocolate cake instead of baking a brownie, that would be memorable.)
- Roasted Lemon Thyme Chicken with Potatoes (recipe below)
- Apple Kale Salad with Candied Almonds (recipe below)
- Halloween Brownies (details below)
- Alcoholic Beverage: Both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are classic pairings for roast chicken
- Non-Alcoholic Beverage: Warmed cider with mulling spices
Lemon Thyme Roast Chicken with Potatoes
Lemon Thyme Roast Chicken with PotatoesRoasting a whole chicken is surprisingly easy, and your house will smell amazing while it is roasting. You just need to get past handling a raw bird. Feel free to use a smaller amount of dried thyme if you don't have fresh.
- Zest of half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon salt, plus extra
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus extra
- Fresh thyme, 4 to 5 sprigs
- Whole chicken, 4 to 5 lbs
- Olive oil (approximately 2 tablespoons)
- Lemon half
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 lb small potatoes, cut into small pieces
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, lemon zest, and leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme. (You will use the rest of the thyme later.)
- Remove the giblets from the chicken. (You can reserve them for another use.) Rinse chicken and pat dry.
- In a roasting pan, coat the chicken with olive oil and then rub the seasoning all over the bird and in the cavity. Fill the cavity with the lemon half, garlic cloves, and 2 to 3 sprigs of thyme.
- Add the potatoes to the roasting pan around the chicken. Add salt and pepper.
- Optional: tie the chicken legs together with twine.
- Roast for 1.5 hours, until it is an absolute minimum of 165. Baste the chicken with its juices halfway through the process.
- Allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. This step is essential. Do not skip.
Apple Kale Salad with Candied Almonds
Apple Kale Salad with Candied Almonds
- ½ cup sliced raw almonds
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped finely.
- 1 apple sliced
- 3 oz feta cheese
- In a cold skillet, combine raw almonds, sugar, and cinnamon. Turn heat to medium. Once the sugar begins to melt, stir constantly until the sugar is fully melted and coating the almonds. Transfer the almonds to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Let cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, tahini, maple syrup, and olive oil to make the salad dressing. Add salt and pepper.
- Add the kale to the bowl and mix until all of the kale is coated in the dressing.
- Top with apple slices, feta crumbles, and approximately half of the candied almonds.
Halloween BrowniesThis isn’t so much a recipe as it is a suggestion on how to make boxed brownies festive for spooky season. As written, this is baked in a pie dish and cut into 8 wedges. Therefore, you’ll want to find a box mix meant for an 8x8 dish. Both Ghiradelli and Trader Joe’s brownie mixes are for that size. If all you have is a brownie mix for an 8x13 dish, obviously skip the pie dish and use the correct size baking pan and use more peanut butter cups.
- 1 box brownie mix, plus ingredients to make it as directed
- 3 oz Reese’s Pieces (King size bag)
- Miniature peanut butter cups (about 15 PB cups)
DirectionsSpray a pie dish with nonstick spray and set aside. Make the brownie mix as directed on the box and fold in the Reese’s Pieces just before adding the mix to the pie dish. Bake according to the box directions for an 8x8 baking dish. Immediately after taking the brownies out of the oven, press the peanut butter cups into the warm brownie. Let cool fully before serving. If desired, serve with vanilla ice cream.