This month I picked up Dark Places by Gillian Flynn because I recently read (and loved) one of her other novels, Gone Girl. Having been enthralled by Gone Girl (the movie based on the book comes out in October), I thought I’d try another of Flynn’s works. The movie based on Dark Places comes out September 1; I’m looking forward to seeing it!
Dark Places is set in Kansas City and rural Kansas, which was another reason I picked it up – I grew up in KC. There were multiple moments in the book when I nodded satisfactorily at a local reference. For instance, one of the early settings is an old warehouse building that, in real life, is used for elaborate haunted houses around Halloween. It brought me right back!
The protagonist of the novel is Libby Day. Libby’s mother and two older sisters were brutally murdered one winter night in 1983 in their farmhouse in rural Kansas. Libby’s brother, Ben, was charged with the murders, and Libby has not been in contact with him since she testified at his trial.
The catalyst for the present-day inquiry into the decades-old murder is a group of “sensational murder” enthusiasts who offer to pay cash-strapped Libby to look into the crime. She spends most of the book on the desolate highways of Kansas trying to track down possible suspects and informants.
Each chapter jumps between different characters’ perspectives, while also jumping from present time to the day of the murders. As the novel unfolds, we learn tidbits of truth. Without giving away the details, her family was fraught with excessive turmoil on that specific day in an all-too-convenient kind of way. It adds to the possible suspect list and colors the story, but makes the plot a little too far-fetched for my taste.
Flynn used similar literary devices in this book as in Gone Girl, and I found that formulaic. (Although, to be fair, Dark Places was written before Gone Girl, so perhaps she had not yet perfected her techniques. I’ll give her a pass on that.)
Unlike Gone Girl, I had a really hard time identifying with the characters in Dark Places. As Libby is telling the story, we get to know her as a deeply troubled, semi-functional adult haunted by her family history. We spend some time with her brother, Ben, on the day of the murders, but no time with him in present day in a way that leaves his character underdeveloped.
The biggest disappointment was the way Flynn ended the book. Ben’s plot line, especially, felt thin and disconnected. Again, without the specifics, it seemed like Flynn was looking for a twist and forced a new character and complicated solution that no mystery novel lover could have deduced. It felt unsatisfying.
Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Dark Places. I’d suggest if you’re going to read only one of Flynn’s novels, make it Gone Girl.
Have you read any of Flynn’s other works? What did you think of them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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