Dark Places Review
4 / 5
A sinister and intense mystery that brings to the fore Devil-worshipping cults, serial killings, deep rooted secrets and fanatical true-crime enthusiasts to create Gillian Flynn’s devilishly captivating whodunit.
The Day family are the subject of some brutally bloody murders, with the mother Patty and two of her daughters, Debbie and Michelle killed on that night in January 1985. This night was far from a normal night for the Day family and the town as alarming allegations were levelled against Ben concerning some disturbing activities he was believed to be involved in. On top of that, Patty’s problems also include monetary issues as she desperately attempts to keep the family farm afloat. Years after the murders and Ben’s life imprisonment for the crime, Libby now leads a life shrouded in depressive and cynical thoughts stemming from that night. She encounters the mysterious Kill Club that convinces her to revisit that night and to find the true killer. Flynn’s dark, thrilling mystery is unlike any whodunit, as it brings together a kaleidoscope of dark and intriguing themes that help to make for an incredible novel.
Libby Day, the main protagonist and one of the three perspectives that are fascinatingly interchanging throughout the novel, did not physically see the murders but she is coached and manipulated by lawyers, the press and psychiatrists to testify against her older brother Ben. Ben, a brooding, and troubled boy has tumbled down a rabbit hole of drugs and devil worship, and to add to his alarming position is him being the focus of a witch-hunt by several families in Kinnakee concerning some very damaging allegations that do not help his defence. Ben is convicted and given a life sentence; Libby is now on her own as the events of that night leave a permanent mental scar on her that has stayed with her for all of her life.
Fast forward over twenty years and Libby needs money desperately as her survivor’s tale has been milked for all it’s worth, as the goodwill of strangers touched by her story and the diminishing royalties of her ghost-written memoir have almost ran out. Coincidentally, she meets Lyle, the head of the Kill Club who and many others are fascinated by the Kansas Prairie Massacre among other true-crime tales, and who offers her money for items belonging to members of the Day family, and more intriguingly and more profitable for Libby, money to reopen traumatic wounds surrounding that day, and to help to prove Ben’s innocence and uncover the true version of what happened on that night in 1985.
As Libby delves back into her past she realises everyone was hiding something that night, and the truth will take her on a harrowing walk down memory lane. She and Lyle discover more in their investigation than the police did in 1985, where they immediately jumped onto the volatile allegations that were aimed at Ben. Flynn uses Patty and Ben’s perspective on that fateful day to delectably tease out astonishing events that add to the suspense and to leave their chapters on cliff-hangers or on a bombshell that ensures the reader is desperate to read on. The events of 1985 are interspersed with Libby’s actions in the present day as she chases up clues and people potentially involved in some way that night. The balance was perfect in creating an ebb and flow of tension, suspense and a sense of impending danger that is the central theme that is ever-present throughout the novel.
The last quarter of the book is truly gripping and it is inevitable that everyone will voraciously devour the pages as the shocking outcome of the events in 1985 and the present day unfold in compelling fashion. Flynn has successfully upheld the air of suspense throughout the story, however, I was a little disappointed in the inclusion of a dues ex machina at the end as I felt that this was a gory, enthralling and fascinating mystery that would be littered with hints and clues rather than be decided with an unforeseeable other. Nevertheless, I still felt that the way Flynn brought all perspectives together in an exciting crescendo after the increasingly tense build up was brilliantly done. The unravelling of it all was very similar to the manner of what happened in Gone Girl, which seems to be a device that Flynn likes to utilise in creating a fantastic climax to the end of the story.
This is the first Gillian Flynn novel that I have read, having been persuaded by the sensational Gone Girl film adaptation and also by this review by the blondeaussiebookworm. This psychological thriller eerily mixes mystery, horror and the occult in a disturbingly addictive way that ensures the reader doesn’t lift their eyes from the page, even if it is a description of gruesome murders, Ben’s obsession with annihilation or the disconcerting devil-worship activities. I found Flynn’s style highly readable and sharp as she flitted between past and present and introduced dark themes in a completely unrestrained manner that made the story totally brilliant and absorbing.
The film version of Dark Places is due to be released in August this year, starring Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christina Hendricks. Check IMDb for more information.