Book review: Dark Places

Latest from “Gone Girl” author is great if you can stomach the suspense

Surviving has not made Libby Day stronger.

As the agonized protagonist of “Dark Places,” Gillian Flynn’s second novel, Libby embodies the impulses most of us outgrow as children. She’s reckless, she steals and she throws fits. But it’s almost excusable.

In 1985, Libby’s mother and two sisters are slain in their home in Kinnakee, Kansas. It’s a crime for which her brother, Ben, is serving life in prison following Libby’s testimony. Her absentee father is staying true to his nature. Orphaned at seven years old, Libby becomes “troubled” and bounces from home to home.

dark-places-book-cover-1Twenty-four years later Libby meets Lyle, a member of a murder-obsessed club that believes Ben to be innocent. The so-called Kill Club hopes to pay Libby to track down witnesses to prove its case. Desperate for cash, Libby agrees. As she learns of alternative theories with Lyle, she begins questioning her brother’s guilt. The pair set out in search of anyone related to the murders.

The story plays out in both past and present, as the chapters alternate between Libby’s modern perspective and her mother or Ben’s views from the day of the murders. It can be tricky to move from one character’s mind and into another so frequently, but the story gains more from flipping perspectives than it loses.

Libby, Ben and their mother are fully explored in their individual circumstances. Despite their differences, a thread of internal conflict connects the three. The characters are heavily flawed and are far from heroes, but their shared moral ambiguity and desperation are intriguing and honest. Each perspective is essential to completing the picture.

The plot could easily have been a disaster. Thankfully, Flynn answers each question she raises. Flynn knows when to withhold information and she does so artfully. She scatters potential suspects throughout the novel.

As in life, the truth is complex. Like her more famous work, “Gone Girl,” “Dark Places” is outrageously grim in spots and suspenseful all over. Flynn doesn’t shy away from violence or gore in her descriptions. Often she shines a light on subjects that will make a reader flinch.

This is one novel that is unafraid to divulge. “Dark Places” is worth a look if you have the stomach for suspense.