Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (W&N Fiction, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in the case of former Entertainment Weekly film and TV critic Flynn’s second foray into thriller writing, you certainly can judge this one by its title. Set amongst the seamy cities, foreclosed farms, and hooker-filled truckstops of America’s bleak Midwest, this novel takes you to some very dark places.

Centred on Libby Day, a troubled woman who survived the ‘Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas’ as a seven-year old, Dark Places unrelentingly builds a disturbing atmosphere. Less than whole, physically and emotionally, Libby has drifted for over twenty years, while her older brother has rotted in prison for the massacre. Having successfully squandered the last dregs of the ‘Libby Day Fund’, in desperation she accepts an offer to appear before a group of true crime fans. Fans who’ve obsessed over the case – and their belief that her childhood evidence jailed an innocent man.

Flynn masterfully intercuts Libby’s present-day narration with that of key people during the events leading up to the murderous night, building tension and a sense of dread. Libby and the reader together stumble along a twisting minefield of dead-ends and discoveries, piecing together ‘the truth’.

Along with a brooding setting, chilling storyline and engrossing, if dislikeable, characters, Flynn impressively manages to weave in literary flourishes and an underlining thread of social commentary. She make you squirm, but also think.

It’s unsurprising US critics have noted Dark Places’ thematic links to Truman Capote’s true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood, but for local readers there are stronger echoes of two of New Zealand’s most notorious cases. A misunderstood young man long imprisoned for the massacre of his family. A panicked community caught up in the satanic ritual abuse hysteria that swept the globe in ‘80s and ‘90s.

All-in-all, not for the fainthearted.

This review was originally published in the Nelson Mail newspaper in June 2009, and for many years was available to read on the newspaper's website. As it is no now longer online there, I have republished it online here on Crime Watch

Gillian Flynn, of course, went onto stratospheric success with her following thriller, GONE GIRL, which was acclaimed worldwide then made into a film. In some ways, I still feel DARK PLACES may be an even better book. Audiences will get to judge for themselves as this book is now also being made into a film, with Charlize Theron starring as Libby Day. 

This book is my Kansas book for the USA Fiction Challenge

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