Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: "Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn

If you liked Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, then odds are you will also enjoy Dark Places. The story follows the mystery of the Day Family Murders in 1985, and the surviving daughter Libby Day's conviction that her older brother Ben was responsible for the satanic laced deaths of her mother and two sisters. The very structure of Dark Places is something I appreciate in terms of unfolding a mystery. Libby Day is the novel's present day first person point of view character. Libby is depressed, unmotivated, emotionally unstable, and a whole host of other unflattering characteristics including kleptomania, and yet her voice is impossible to resist. As the only first person character, the reader gets inside of Libby's mind and her unapologetic perspective of the world which is viewed through the tragic lens of the murder of her family when she was just a child. Perhaps having survived the murder of her mother and two sisters, her subsequent mutilation, and providing the damning testimony that helped pin the crime on her brother, is the reason Libby is so easy to forgive as a narrator.

As the story moves forward, the character perspectives move between Patty Day (Libby's mother) and Ben Day (Libby's brother) on the day of the murder back in 1985. Flynn really shines here as she masterfully designs a story that doesn't reveal it's central truth behind the mystery of who committed the murders until the reader has traveled with Patty and Ben through the day and their dark truths. The back story keeps the reader guessing at every turn as to who was responsible for the ghastly murders and who else may have been involved.
The back story parallels Libby's present day search for the truth as she is pulled back into the mystery by a secondary character that introduces her to an underground club consisting of people who thrive off murders and seek to solve them. Libby's initial motivation to attend the Kill Club meetings is purely financial as she will be paid to appear and talk about the murders. Having just discovered that her money, all of which was given to her by the public in donations over the years, is running out, Libby resorts to her survival tactic of 'pity me, I'm Libby Day.' However, the Kill Club experience challenges Libby and shatters the protective bubble she's built in which she is the victim and her brother Ben is the devil-worshipping teenage murderer.

Libby's search for the truth allows her character to grow past the child-like state she has been lingering in for nearly 25 years. It was an interesting journey to make with Libby, and while some aspects of her personality improved there were still character quirks that kept her believable until the end. Her mother's sections were heart wrenching. Patty's backstory pulled on every empathetic chord I possess and her movement through that horrible day in 1985 was full of anguish. Ben Day was the most perplexing character to read about, and I wavered back and forth over whether or not he committed the murders the entire story. As his character moves further into that day in 1985 he becomes increasingly darker, and yet his troubled relationships with his sisters, mother, father, Diondra, Krissi, and Trey all eat at him in such a way that I felt sorry for him.

Flynn is able to keep the tension of the story alive for over 500 pages, and I ate it up until the satisfying conclusion. I'm a fan of Flynn, and even though I found Gone Girl a little unbalanced and the characters just too terrible to like, Dark Places showed me that she is writer who knows how to develop and unfold a good mystery.

“I was not a lovable child, and I'd grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it'd be a scribble with fangs.” ― Libby Day

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