Dark Places is the rather horrid tale of Libby Day who, when seven, was the only survivor when her brother went crackers and killed their mum and two sisters. Now in her thirties, Libby has spent almost all the trust fund set up by well-wishers and is in danger of actually having to go out and get a job, so when a ghoulish True Crimes group contacts her to come and speak to them in exchange for $500, she almost bites their hands off at the wrist. The group has an ulterior motive, though. They believe Libby’s brother is innocent and soon Libby starts wondering whether they might be right.
So. To start off, I have to say that this is a really clever book. The plot is so intricate it made me want to stand up and give it a round of applause, but it’s not so complicated that you don’t know where you are or what’s going on. Flynn has a way of writing that’s a lot like John Grisham - they can manage these plots that just throw stuff at you all the time, but write in a really accessable way that makes the retention of facts easy and keeps you up way past your bedtime.
Dark Places is told from multiple viewpoints - Libby’s story in the present day is interspersed with chapters from other members of the Day family in the days leading up to the massacre. You get a lot of information about their home life and history and also their relationships with other members of the community and this all feeds in to the whodunit - was it really Libby’s brother, or might it have been someone else? There are hundreds of little plot points that come up in the multiple narrative that incriminate various characters and but then get explained away only to crop up again later. It’s all cleverly put together, but not so clever that it comes across as being up it’s own bum.
So, the plot was great. I have to say, though: the characters were not. Really, really not. I’ve read Gillian Flynn books before and she does specialise in writing really abhorrent characters, but she’s really outdone herself in Dark Places. None of the characters had much in the way of redeeming features, and in fact most of them were pretty awful. Properly grubby.
You kind of feel sorry for Libby Day - she’s lost her whole family, after all - and although she grows as the story progresses, she starts off not very likeable. This is how she describes herself:
I was not a lovable child, and I'd grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it'd be a scribble with fangs.
I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.
The remainder of the characters are all pretty awful. Libby’s mother is trying and failing to run the family farm and the children suffer from neglect and abject poverty. Ben, Libby’s brother, is socially awkward and angry at his lot in life. The two younger sisters are brattish. Ben’s friends are all horrible and the absent father makes Homer Simpson look like the Dalai Lama. Ultimately the characterisation, which was very well done, just gave me the creeps. These people were so awful I just wanted to lock them all in a room and chuck a grenade in after them. And I know that this is exactly what Gillian Flynn wanted me to feel, but damn. Horrible. Just horrible.
This is a really dark, twisted read that made me feel slightly dirty as I was reading it. I would totally recommend it if you like crime thrillers, but just make sure you’re surrounded by happy people and in a secure emotional state before you pick it up.