Friday, 6 September 2013

Review: Dark Places, Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

Gillian Flynn

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details—proof they hope may free Ben—Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club...and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

I was drawn to Dark Places for two reasons. Firstly, it was the only remaining Flynn book I hadn't read, and after the brilliance of Gone Girl and the solid debut that was Sharp Objects, I felt like I had to give this a try too. Secondly, the main characters are a brother/sister duo, and as I've said before, I like seeing how authors construct that relationship.

I think it sits well between Sharp Objects (good, but not great) and Gone Girl (fantastic) in terms of the plot, the characters, and what it sets out to achieve. Half of the story is told from Libby Day's point of view - an adult woman who, as a child, survived the massacre of her family on their Kansas farm, and subsequently sent her older brother Ben to jail on her testimony. Libby's chapters alternate with flashback chapters told from the perspective of Ben and their mother Patty.

Libby is, understandably, a bit of a pain in the arse and not a particularly pleasant person to be around. She's not the sympathetic, brave victim the newspapers would love; instead, she lives in near-squalor, bitter and reclusive, and is only spurred into action by the realisation that the Libby Day Fund is running out fast. Badgered into re-treading the murders by a group who believe Ben is innocent, Libby starts to attempt to unravel the mystery of her family's death, and what role her brother really played in it.

The flashback chapters really add to the pacing of the novel - while Libby is picking apart clues in the present, the reader is reliving the day of the murders, a day that gradually spirals out of control as the book progresses. The Days are at the mercy of some pretty grim circumstances, and the despair radiates off the page. I kind of wanted them all to run somewhere, but there aren't a lot of places to run.

The ending is satisfying - I'm not sure it's a twist, as such, but it was largely unexpected and I was hooked throughout. Not a cheerful book, by any means - there are plenty of dark places that this book goes - but another solid, gripping thriller from Flynn.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

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