Wednesday, September 02, 2009

#44 - Dark Places

There's a certain macabre element to Gillian Flynn's writing that I can appreciate. Yes, it scares the crap out of me (but I am easily frightened). Yes, it seems a little overtly horrific at times. But, overall, they're solid thrillers that camp more in the David Fincher and Mo Hayder side of the genre than say the Law and Order and Alexander McCall Smith side. Her latest novel, Dark Places, climbs into just that, both metaphorically and literally. 

Libby Day survives one of the most brutal crimes ever to take place in Kinnakee, Kansas. She's just seven when her mother and two sisters are murdered (in cold blood, yes, indeed) late one winter night. Dashing from the house after taking refuge in her mother's bedroom, Libby hides from her brother Ben, the only other survivor, when he comes calling for her. Based on her own fuzzy recollections, Ben is convicted of the murders and has spent the past 25 years in jail. 

Bittersweet and slightly morose, Libby has made a decent living from being the lone survivor of "The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas." Scraping the barrel of the trust fund that was set up after the deaths of her family members, her father lost to alcohol and hard living, Libby hasn't ever truly held down a real job. Then along comes The Kill Club, a group of amateur sleuths who thrive on the more grotesque nature of the crimes, combing through old evidence to try and solve the unsolvable. The Kill Club, and its obsession with serial killers, gives Libby a second chance to come to terms with her life -- they (and especially one of their main members, Lyle Wirth) don't believe Ben committed the crime and they're willing to pay her to dig deeper into her past to find out the truth. And find out the truth she does, but it's not what Libby, or the reader for that matter, expects.

Whenever I read a book that circles around  such disturbing events, I can't help but think about something Alissa York said once, that a writer's imagination, because it's that, made-up, can go places that people don't normally go. They explore situations and characters that seemingly come from out of left field and that only work in the context of that particular book. Flynn does a great job with these dark places, both from the novel's title and from the pages within, and if I have one complaint, it's that I'm not entirely convinced by the conclusion. Like her first novel, Sharp Objects, the novel rips along like mad for the first two-thirds, and then falls down just slightly when the penultimate moment arrives. The true ending, however, as in the very last chapter of the book, was utterly satisfying.

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