This morning I finished reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn—my fifth book for the KC Library’s While the City Sleeps program, completing the five-book challenge! I’ll head up to the library sometime this week to claim my prize: a sweet coffee mug meant to hold nice hot drinks while reading. 🙂
Dark Places is Flynn’s sophomore effort, between her debut Sharp Objects and last year’s Gone Girl (click titles to read my reviews). I read the three out of chronological order, but it’s clear that Flynn’s writing became progressively stronger with each novel, and the characters and their lives more dark and twisted. For the record, Gone Girl is my favorite of the trio.
Dark Places focuses on the tragic murders of the Day family of (fictional) Kinnakee, Kansas. In the wee hours of a cold mid-1980s January morning, seven-year-old Libby Day’s mother and two sisters were brutally murdered in their farmhouse. Libby escapes, and later her damning testimony pins the crime on her brother Ben, sending him to prison. Nearly twenty-five years later, Libby still is deeply scarred emotionally, wallowing in a self-loathing internal anguish, and realizes her memory (and testimony) of that night might not be as solid as she thought. Desperate for money, Libby takes up a local true-crime enthusiast group on its offer for cash in exchange for information about her family’s killings. She embarks on an investigative journey to discover what really happened the night of the murders, finding people from her past, bringing to light long-buried memories, and finding her life in danger once again.
Another thriller featuring a disturbed female lead, Dark Places took me a bit longer to read than the other two Flynn books, but was still a suspenseful page-turner. Flynn has a sharp yet straightforward prose style with hard-edged language and bold adjectives, which I enjoyed in this and her other books. She likes to create believably ugly, harsh worlds of violence and other unpleasantness for her darkly troubled female characters. The alternating narrative viewpoints from chapter to chapter moved the story along quickly, with each chapter on the short side making it easy to allow myself to think just one more, just one more. Our protagonist Libby, the only character depicted in first-person (the rest in third), is angry and pathetic, but not entirely unlikable or unsympathetic. Her brother Ben and mother Patty are the other most prominent characters, receive flashback chapters focused on their actions and activities over the course of that fateful day. The tension buildup was well done, with elements of drugs, sex, Satan worshiping, poverty,
Dark Places ultimately boils down to a whodunit murder-mystery, and Flynn gave the readers enough new information at just the right pacing to make you question what you thought you had figured out. The ending was satisfying and believable for me. I had my suspicions on how the crime went down and who was guilty, but I wasn’t quite there, for which I’m glad. I was guessing all the way to the end! This book’s setting in the Kansas City area added an extra layer of enjoyment for me, too. I understand why she chose some of the bleakest, more rundown areas—Dark Places is also a story of stark, desperate poverty—I found the locations to be fitting, especially the West Bottoms for the Kill Club meetings.
Dark Places was my fifth read of five books total for the 2013 KC Library Adult Winter Reading Program: While the City Sleeps, hosted by the Kansas City Public Library. Challenge completed!
Read from February 28 to March 9, 2013.