Title: Dark Places
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Random House Audio (audio version)
Read: February 17 - March 2, 2013
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.
The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.
As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.
It is not often that an author is able to create characters who become as familiar and true as old friends and whose fate still haunts you in your dreams (or nightmares) long after the last page has been turned. Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places is such a book, and despite having eagerly awaited the conclusion of the story and answers to all my questions, I am almost sad to part from a story which has held my undivided attention for so many hours.
Libby Day is the only female survivor of a horrible crime – the brutal slaughter of her mother and two sisters when Libby was only seven years old. Having escaped by hiding in a dark cupboard whilst the killings took place, Libby’s testimony about the events leading up to the murders and the things she heard on the night ultimately led to the arrest and prosecution of her older brother Ben, who is believed to have killed his family in a satanic ritual. Now in her early thirties, Libby’s life is still overshadowed by her past. She is constantly afraid of strangers, has no friends, is estranged from her only other remaining relatives and is unemployed, living off donations of benefactors who have heard about her fate. Since the night of the murders she has had no contact with Ben, who has been sentenced to life in prison.
But Libby’s life is about to change – the money from her beneficiary fund has been almost depleted, and she is confronted with the reality of having to get her life in order and find work. Still bitter and depressed, she receives a strange offer from a stranger, Lyle, who belongs to a society of civilians investigating the murders of her family, the Kill Club, convinced that Ben is innocent and that the real murderer is still at large. Lyle wants her to be guest of honour at the group’s next meeting, in exchange for a generous fee. Broke and desperate, Libby agrees. Confronted by group members, Libby is thrust back into the “dark place”, her memory of the night of the murders. Knowing that her testimony of having seen Ben commit the murders was coerced and not entirely true, she lets herself be persuaded to talk to persons who could hold the key to what really happened that night, such as her alcoholic wastrel father. And though Libby is still convinced that the right person has been charged with the murders, some of the new information coming to light may challenge everything she has believed all these years….
Flynn is a truly gifted writer, drawing the reader into the story from page one and never letting go whilst the plot slowly unravels to reveal a clever twist at the end. I never saw that one coming, although looking back there were clues which I somehow overlooked or disregarded as unimportant. By using four different narrators – with Libby’s being the only first person account – the day and night of the murders slowly unfold from several viewpoints. A warning for readers who do not like violence – some of the scenes are very graphic and truly horrible, and by cleverly setting the scene and creating a chilling atmosphere the author allows no escape from the horror of it all. One particular scene towards the end of the book made my stomach churn, and yet I could not tear myself away.
As in Flynn’s other books, evil constantly simmers under the surface and many circumstances converge to lead to the central twist at the end of the book. Exploring the darkest places of the human soul, the title is very apt, although in the book it refers to Libby’s memories of the fateful night. All characters are extremely well drawn. As the novel progresses, we see Libby grow from a bitter young woman to someone who takes matters into her own hands – which leaves the reader with a sense of hope despite the truly horrible themes underlying the story. As a mother, my heart went out to Patty, who is honest and hard-working, wanting only the best for her family, but having her whole life derailed by marrying the wrong man – and the spiral of poverty which sees her constantly battling to keep her family and farm afloat. The choices she must make are heartbreaking. The third person to have a voice is Ben, and even though I wanted to shake him at times it was hard not to feel empathy for this dysfunctional character as his unfortunate choices make his life rapidly spiral out of control.
I had the audiobook version of this novel, and rate it as one of the best narrations I have ever listened to. Using different narrators for the different perspectives in the book adds depth to the characters and sets a distinctively different tone for each separate part of the novel. Each one of the four narrators did an excellent job in giving characters their own voice, and I had no trouble following the conversations between several people (which can sometimes be an issue where there are lots of different characters to keep track of). I can strongly recommend this audiobook to anyone who wants hours of riveting storytelling – I had many occasions where I sat in the driveway in the dark after work, unable to switch off the recording before I had learnt just a little bit more.
Highly recommended for fans of clever atmospheric mysteries, although not for the faint hearted. I loved it – a definite five stars from me. It doesn’t get much better than this.
This book forms part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge.