The basics: When Libby Day was seven, her older brother murdered their mother and two other sisters. Libby has lived off donations ever since, but now in her late twenties, the money is almost gone. She turns to the Kill Club, a secret club obsessed with murders, and they're willing to pay for her to talk to her father and brother about the crimes.
My thoughts: There's always something magical about my first 5-star read of the new year, and Dark Places is it for 2014. I was instantly drawn into this creepy world. Flynn manges to write about very dark people and events with moments of humor: "He was about to give Lyle a high-five and then thought better: his arm froze in an accidental Nazi salute." The story unfolds in alternating chapters. One is Libby's present struggles to learn more about the crimes and reconnect with her childhood. The other is to relive the day of the murders, through the eyes of both her brother, the convincted murdered, and the mother. It soon becomes clear that all may not be as it seems.
I particularly enjoyed the settings of Kansas City and Kansas in this novel. While those unfamiliar with northeast Kansas can zoom right by the names of small towns, I delighted in Glynn's geographical detail (she grew up in Kansas City and attended the University of Kansas--two more reasons to like her!) It's so rare to read a novel set in the part of Kansas where five generations of my ancestors lived, so it was a special joy.
As this novel was the third one I'd read by Gillian Flynn, I had certain expectations. I imagined the murder to be far more complicated and twisty than the official story. Check. I expected not all of the characters to be likeable, but for them to be compelling. Check. What surprised me most, however, was how original this novel, and all three of her novels are. If I read this one without knowing who the author was, I could probably guess Gillian Flynn, yet beyond her style and tone, there aren't many similarities among the three. Perhaps that is why I've liked each of her novels more, even as I read them out of order. Sharp Objects was better than Gone Girl. Dark Places was better than both. Would I feel the same way if I read them in a different order? Perhaps not. The novels aren't part of a series, but they're so complex, in plot and character, that together they form a more developed understanding of Gillian Flynn as a writer.
Favorite passage: “I know a little bit about trying to do the right thing and fucking up completely,” I added. “You talking about Mom?” Ben said. “I was talking about me.” “You could have been talking about all of us.”
The verdict: After loving both Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, I had high expectations for Dark Places, and it ended up being my favorite Gillian Flynn novel yet. It's a novel best enjoyed without expectations. Simply going along this wild ride is its own reward.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: May 5, 2009
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