Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark PlacesTitle: Dark Places
Author: Gillian Flynn
Published: 2009
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Pages: 368
From: Walmart

Ever since reading Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects, I’ve loved the way her mind works. I read more murder mysteries, and eventually found her second novel, Dark Places. It was just as dark and mysterious as her first, and even grittier than I could have imagined.

Dark Places, published in 2009, delves into the minds of murderers, and the minds of murder victims and their children.

Libby Day was seven when her family was murdered on a cold, rural Kansas night. And, after, pieces begin falling out of place. She testified against her 15-year-old brother, Ben, that he was the killer, and Libby slowly becomes dependent on the money she received from TV specials and books and the media, dependent and lazy and selfish. But, when the money she has saved began running out, Libby develops a plan to keep the money coming by talking to a group of murder junkies and uncovering what really happened when her mother and two sisters were killed. Did her brother really kill them? Or was it someone else?

What I like about Flynn’s writing, like I mentioned in the review for Sharp Objects, is how gritty it is. I enjoy reading thoughts people have but would never share, about things like murder and hatred. While most people don’t actually think about murder, that Ben does makes his situation more real and down to earth. You believe his actions because you know what he thinks. Characters’ actions need to be realistic to the characters, otherwise you find yourself in disbelief and disconnected. When you know what Ben, Libby and their mother think during the days and nights, you understand why they do what they do. Flynn successfully passes that along in all of her characters, specifically the ones in first person.

I can go on and on about how much I love Flynn’s writing style, format, plot, twists, characters and dialogue, but I imagine that would get boring. Something I didn’t like as much with this novel was Libby. I think her character was developed well, and I never questioned her actions and reasons, but I just didn’t jive with her. Maybe that’s what Flynn was after: someone that people don’t agree with, someone that doesn’t fit in public, and if so, she succeeded. I think Flynn probably was going for that angle, to fit someone that had a horrific past and spent her whole life using it and, sometimes, abusing it, into a real character and make it work. It did, I’m just not sure how much. Maybe it’s a taste thing, or maybe this wasn’t one of Flynn’s best works, but Libby fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum for me.

That said, I enjoyed the mystery the book breathed. The twisted path the story follows is an interesting one, especially since Ben is so involved in the back and present stories. The uncertainty is what drives this story and its characters. I love the realistic tension between all the characters, on the page and off, and the tension from what is not said. What isn’t said is what I love most about any story, because that is where the most interesting and motivating things can be found.

Flynn has set a high standard for herself, something I imagine she will never drop below.

Check out Barnes and Noble and to buy Gillian Flynn’s three novels. If you are still looking for more murder mysteries, check out Tana French’s five novels based around Ireland’s fictional Murder Squad. Dark Places will be out on the silver screen in 2014.

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