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Having now read all of Gillian Flynn’s novels, including Dark Places, the subject of this review, I have come to the conclusion that Flynn really, really does NOT like her characters to be well adjusted individuals in any way, shape, or form! And, while I feel that it’s not quite as good as her other two novels, Dark Places is still a decent, slow-burning mystery that patrons will enjoy (especially since the movie adaptation is coming out later this year, so make sure you have copies on hand).
The story begins with Libby Day, the sole survivor of her family’s murder by her brother, Ben, in what appeared to be a satanic ritual, in desperate need of money. So, when she is approached by Lyle, a member of the kill club, a group of amateur investigators who believe that her brother is innocent of the crime who offer her money to help them with their investigations, she reluctantly agrees. But as the investigation takes her across the Midwest to dying towns and reunions with ghosts from her past, Libby begins to question her memories of that day, memories that were instrumental in putting her brother in jail for the murder of her family.
As dark as the title suggests, Dark Places is intricately plotted, bleak and compelling mystery, and while well written, due to its subject matter (i.e. Satanism, underage sex, and spousal abuse), it is not a title I would recommend to everyone, especially older patrons who might be more easily offended.
Like all of Flynn’s novels, the characters are all deeply flawed, from Libby, who is still very fragile, even after twenty five years have elapsed since the murders, to her mother Patty who is deeply depressed. While this can work, and has worked in her other books, here I felt that she went a bit overboard, to the point that I eventually stopped caring about the characters, which is the worst possible thing that can happen when you’re reading a book. In fact, the only thing that kept me reading was my desire to find out what really happened that night of the murders (which is why I said it was a decent mystery novel, specifically, that resolving the mystery was the only thing that kept my interest).
On the other hand, Flynn’s use of flashbacks to the days and weeks leading up to the murders was very well done, with both Ben and Libby’s mother each revealing a bit more each time, teasing me with suggestions of further secrets, and painting a bleak, desperate, and often disturbing portrait of a dying farming town that would serve as a backdrop to the tragedy to come.
Honestly, I’m a bit torn on this one: on the one hand, while I didn’t like the characters, the actual mystery itself is serviceable, and Flynn did a great job at using flashbacks to tease out what really happened the night Libby’s family was murdered. Overall though, Dark Places just didn’t live up to Flynn’s other works, and that’s a shame because she was so close with it. In the end, I give it a 6 out of 10 (and a trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation)! ; )