Review – Dark Places
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  • Posted:
  • August 2, 2015


Dark Places

Gillian Flynn has become one of those authors that I can’t help but love. She is gritty and disturbing. She writes in clipped, staccato bursts of unspeakable horror, and her stories are unpredictable and gripping. I read Gone Girl last year and was surprised by how much I loved it, particularly since mystery thrillers and I usually don’t jive.  In the last year I attempted to read Dark Places twice – Once was just before the holidays when I had far too much on my mind to concentrate. The second time was this past week on a road trip when I promptly devoured it.

This book, just like Gone Girl, will resonate in my mind long after finishing it. There’s no better way to put it than that; Flynn writes haunting, unforgettable books that I cannot stop thinking about. So, there’s that. 

Libby Day survived a gruesome massacre on her childhood farm. At 7-years-old she escaped into the snow and hid from a man who killed her family, strangling one of her sisters, shooting her mother, and slaughtering her other sister with an axe. The night left her disabled, depressed, and with few people to count on. At the time the murderer was proved to be her 15-year-old brother, Ben, who was sentenced to life in prison. Now, 25 years later, Libby lives as well as one expects. She steals the little things that she feels she is owed. She doesn’t make new acquaintances and is reserved and distant from those that she is forced to interact with. When the murders occurred, a sympathy fund was created for her to live on which has carried her into adulthood. That fund is drying up. Even with the profits from a recent tell-all bestseller, Libby struggles to make ends meet and is annoyed that people have forgotten her.

Then she is approached by a man named Lyle Wirth. Lyle wants to pay her for information and offers her a chance to meet with the Kill Club; an organization of retired police force and mystery aficionados who solve murder cases for fun. Libby reluctantly agrees and attends a meeting where she is given the surprise of her life – The Kill Club knows that Ben Day is not the murderer of her family. They also know that Libby, who was present during the massacre, was lying during her testimonial that sentenced Ben to a life behind bars.

Thus begins a whirlwind novel where Flynn explores the truth behind what is presented and what actually occurs. As with Gone Girl  there are multiple layered dimensions to this thriller. Told both in third person and first person perspectives we follow Libby in present day as well as visit the past with Ben and Patty Day (Libby’s now deceased mother). Libby makes for an interesting narrator. She is rough-around-the-edges, reluctant to believe that her testimony may have been fabricated by her lawyer.  She resists the hand of those who try to help her yet actively expects them to. She is a grown up child locked away in her own head. Patty and Ben’s POVs are no less horrifying. With Patty we get a sense of disappointment as we look at motherhood through the crystal lens of failure. With Ben Patty’s ruinous perspective is only amplified – sex, drugs, deviltry, verbal and mental abuse, and manipulation…every atrocity comes full throttle in this novel, and none of it is pretty.

Libby’s “Darkplace” also bears mentioning; a place of terror that Libby visits as she frequently slips into the memories of the massacre. The Darkplace is a dream-like scape of blood and fright; of pain, grief, bird-like death rattles, limbs thrown akimbo, and bodies torn apart. The Darkplace is a metaphor for everything that Libby has lost and, more importantly, what she refuses to gain as she steadfastly remains rooted to the ground. With every step forward to resolve her family’s murder, Libby breaks away from the Darkplace, creeping forth gingerly into adulthood and out of her frozen childhood nightmares of the past. It’s a great device written well and Flynn uses it just enough to not overdo it, which I appreciated. So many people could have botched that detail, but not Flynn. She knows the right amount of trickery to add to her writing.

This book is intense. It is powerful and exciting and frightening. I will not be able to wipe the characters or the imagery from my brain any time soon, nor do I want to. Flynn’s books resonate with a force beyond compare and I cannot get enough of them.

5 out of 5 stars.

– BP

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