Letâ€™s be real: itâ€™s amazing that Gillian Flynn didnâ€™t properly explode until Gone Girl. Her first two novels were accomplished. Sharp Objects was disquieting and deeply unpleasant in places, but it was pointy right to the very end. Dark Places is more assured, with a strong mystery intertwined throughout and a more immediately understandable main character. Dark Places is a prescient novel; the fringe that it depicts is no longer underground.
Libby Day was seven when she implicated her brother in the murder of her mother and sisters. Twenty five years later, sheâ€™s never had a job, is running out of the allowance she received from her charity trust in the heyday of the nationâ€™s grief for her, and a club of true crime aficionados is offering her money in return for souvenirs and contact with her brother. After years of believing her own hype, is Libby ready to consider that her familyâ€™s massacre may not have gone as planned?
Presented in a mixture of â€œnowâ€ and the days leading up to the massacre, Dark Places offers us a broken lead and provides four perfect reasons for her behaviour. Libby is a mess, she knows it, and she makes few apologies for it. Libbyâ€™s case is certainly extreme, but itâ€™s credible nonetheless. Flynn has a knack for writing flawed but compelling characters, and Libbyâ€™s voice is loud in the confines of her own head, a coping mechanism for an uncaring world.
Dark Places is an incendiary examination of America in crisis across three decades, and the psychic damage that continues to be inflicted upon someone suffering PTSD. It is about the illusion of community among people who care only that theyâ€™re better off than those below them. It is about the morbid frisson that people get from reading about real murders and trying to solve them (now an international pastime, then something confined to the seamy underbelly of society).
The conclusion, or â€œsolutionâ€ to Dark Places might be a stretch too far for some, but the seeds are littered throughout the novel. The beauty of Dark Places is that it works, and itâ€™s logical, but itâ€™s not neat by any stretch of the imagination. Flynn doesnâ€™t outsmart herself, but her characters do frequently, and with startling results. Unlike Sharp Objects, with an ending so graphic that it stays etched in the mind for years afterwards, Dark Places becomes fuzzy through the passage of time and books. It is a pleasure to rediscover and, though its stakes are relatively low, theyâ€™re all that matter to Libby and the reader both.
Great as a character study, compelling as a murder mystery, and structured in an expertly addictive fashion, Dark Places is a star maker before its time. Gillian Flynn eventually got her due, but Dark Places deserves a proper television serial adaptation to bring it to life for people who just canâ€™t get enough of frostbitten survivors of traumatic events. â€œThrillerâ€ is a genre term applied far too loosely, but it truly sticks to Dark Places.