Gillian Flynn sets you up to expect the worst throughout her second novel, Dark Places. Considering the depths main character Libby Day sinks to (at least in her thoughts), it’s clear Flynn is an author not afraid to go there. At least, until the end, which is awesome and yet somehow…not.
Libby Day’s mother and two older sisters were brutally murdered when she was seven years old. Her brother, Ben, is in prison for the murders. But when an adult Libby hooks up with a group calling themselves the Kill Club, she finds herself mired in a murky world, where strangers hold court on her history. They do their best to convince Libby that what she remembers is not what happened at all – and Libby, despite herself, begins to doubt. Throughout Libby’s current story are flashbacks from the past, in the voices of her dead mother and imprisoned brother; it’s in these that the story of what went on at the Day farm becomes clearer.
Flynn weaves an interesting mystery – the story is all twisty, as you would expect for a book of this ilk, and every single character seems to have an agenda, including Libby herself. For her, it’s mainly money: how she can get it and live off it without having to work. While she (understandably) is deeply changed by the murders, some of her reactions reveal a black persona. It’s right there in the book’s opening line: “I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.” Libby desires money and nothing else, until she finds herself drawn into the Kill Club’s theories and goes on a chase for the truth. The story hits its stride here. Uncomfortable as it was, with hints of paedophilia and satanism, it’s never less than engrossing – take Libby’s meeting with female fans of Ben. It’s a perfectly-written segment, conveying some of the bug-eyed craziness of serial-killer fans; but it also manages to show there may be some method to their madness. Of course, they also tell Libby they ‘forgive you for your part in this fiasco’ while blaming Ben’s imprisonment on her – balancing out any sanity they try to present.
It’s an enjoyable tale for sure; particularly with brother Ben and mother Patty’s last-day stories mixed in – but at the same time the narrative begins to suffer a little, as Flynn starts to tie them up just a touch too neatly. It’s a small complaint for a really good read, and if you like books where everything is wrapped up neatly in a bow, then Dark Places will do it for you – the payoff is worth it.