Phoenix, 2007 (2006)
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.
Camille works for a minor Chicago newspaper, determined to make it as a reporter. Her editor, sensing a story down in forgotten Wind Gap, Missouri, sends Camille to investigate, plunging Camille back into the oppressive small town world she grew up in. Sent to find out more about the murder of two young girls, Camille must also deal with her beguiling teenage sister, her manipulative mother, and the memory of her dead sister Marian.
Sharp Objects oozes that kind of sticky, hot, dusty air that conjured up a very specific image of Wind Gap for me. Flynn really nails the feeling of a small town mourning the loss of two young children - the tragedy tinged with gossip and suspicion - and it was easy to understand how Camille slowly unravelled in the middle of it all.
At the same time as trying to drag a story out of the citizens of her former home and stay on the good side of the local police, Camille must deal with her family, who are (for want of a more eloquent term) slightly mad and definitely unsettling. Camille's mother Adora is a cloying, wheedling woman, powerful and needy all at the same time. Amma, Camille's half sister, seems to be playing all sorts of roles, and Camille (like the reader) is never entirely sure whether she's on Amma's good side, or bad side, or neither. Mix in a selection of Camille's old high school friends, grieving parents, and a perpetually ineffectual stepfather, and Camille is on particularly shaky ground.
Sharp Objects balances 'normal' and 'creepy' well, and Flynn builds the tension gradually, until turning the page was a little bit like peering round the corner in a horror film. This is primarily an exploration of psychological states, rather than a straight crime thriller, and though it wasn't immaculate, it was still very well done.
Overall rating: 6.5/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.