Dark Places, Gillian Flynn: Book Review

Is it bad that I wanted Libby to die?

dark places gillian flynn book review
Dark Places Book Cover Dark Places
Gillian Flynn
Mystery, Adult Fiction, Thriller, Suspense
Shaye Areheart Books
May 5, 2009
Hardcover
349

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice" of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

This review contains spoilers

I’ve said this before about Gillian Flynns writing, and I’ll say it again: She really needs to pick up the speed in her stories! Dark Places is a fine read but it’s also a very meditative one, too; Flynn really takes her time to build her characters and their backstories (which are obviously important) but Jesus, could she have moved any slower in this one?

Bitching aside, I still love Flynn; she’s still my favorite writer. It’s just that the bone I have to pick with her is where her strengths shine her weaknesses shine even brighter; every time I think I’m getting somewhere in one of her crime stories it’s like I’m being teased with mind-numbing details that frankly, I could do without. Or could I? I guess it’s her way of dragging us through the mud with these strange, investigative stories she’s so well-known for. Dark Places was no exception, and a lot of the moments in this story were very dry and boring. And just when you think you’ve reached the juicy bits of her thrillers she flushes you back into 30 more pages of boring stream-of-consciousness before something big happens again. This is all that happened during Day 1 of reading.

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By Day 2, I simply could not deal with Libby’s pessimistic babbling any longer and ended up DNFing this book somewhere around page 60 because it became so cumbersome to read. It was excruciatingly difficult trying to brave through those chapters because Flynn has a tendency of holding off on the excitement until nearly two-thirds of the book has been read. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but in my opinion, she still waits too long to get things moving. Nonetheless, after a few more days of depriving myself of what was to come of Libby, the gruesome murders of her mother and siblings, and the incarceration of her older brother, Ben, I had to pick this thing up again. And I am glad that I did.

After reading some reviews already, it seems most people were a bit jostled by Flynn’s use of multiple perspectives instead of just Libby’s point of view. Maybe it’s just a bias of mine, but I really enjoyed reading from Ben and Patty’s perspectives. We obviously could not have understood what all went down that unfaithful night when the bulk of Libby’s family were killed, and so for that, I think it would have been extremely unconvincing if Libby were to solve the murder plot on her own without Patty and Ben’s afterthoughts. Another reason why I don’t mind the use of multiple viewpoints in Flynn’s crime stories is because I am fully confident in her ability to put the pieces together without giving too much of the mystery away. Having read her all her books, albeit in reverse, with Gone Girl being my introduction to Flynn’s canon, she has proven herself entirely bold in her story angles and how she approaches her mysteries. Which is why I really can’t stay mad at her for too long; it’s only because I’ve never read anyone like her before, and I’m addicted. Anything she writes I’ll buy, without question.

On an even more positive note, this was actually a very interesting deviation from Gone Girl; I like that this mystery wasn’t very easy to solve (though I have my concerns about that ending, which I’ll get to). Flynn doesn’t shy away from her signature page-turning brilliance, either; every single chapter is a cliffhanger and the fact that she produces those moments of suspense throughout the entire book makes her especially talented. It’s just the way she pieces things together in the end, and throughout the book, that sort of bothered me.

FYI: It’s spoiler time, run now if you haven’t finished the book quite yet

Here are some of the things that really bugged me, didn’t make sense or flat-out pissed me off about this book:

Libby going over to Diondra’s house alone.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded if Libby died right then and there. Now that might sound really macabre but for someone as cautionary as Libby it just didn’t seem smart of her to throw herself into a nasty situation like that. But like I said, I would not have minded.

In his chapter, Calvin Diehl said he chose an ax as his murder weapon to kill Debby “quietly” so as not to wake the others. So why in the hell does he not even hesitate to blow Patty’s head off with a shotgun? What is “quiet” about the sound of a shotgun round letting off?

That entire scene didn’t even make any sense. I mean, who goes from ax to shotgun in a matter of seconds? That’s insane.

How and why does cow-murdering dipshit Trey get off clean?!

At least give him cancer or something! All those years of murdering those poor cows and just being a plain douchebag and he gets away unscathed?? What sort of bullshit was that!

And last but not least, my favorite… Why is Ben still such a pussy even 25 years after being locked up?! I know that prison changes people over time, but coming to terms with being framed for your own family’s murder is not nearly as easy as he made it seem.

Annotating what Ben said in his final account is what really made me upset and confused. It’s present day and Ben’s out in the prison yard reflecting on the night of the murders with Libby (my copy cites page 342 in case yours is different):

Yes, he’d been a whimpering little worthless coward that night, a boy who just let things happen. Scared. But after the murders, something fell in place maybe. He would be quiet to save Diondra, his woman, and the baby. His second family. He couldn’t bring himself to bust out of that room and save Debby and his mom. He couldn’t bring himself to stop Diondra and save Michelle. He couldn’t bring himself to do anything but shut up and take it. Stay still and take it. That he could do.

Okay then, so let me see if I’ve got this all right: Ben is totally fine with rescuing a 17-year-old cunt machine who gives him shit every minute, and seizes every opportunity to emasculate him to the shriveled piece of pathetic shit he is (and grows to be) rather than saving his dying sister(s)? His actual blood is less important than this bitch?! And was I the only that was suspicious of whether Diondra’s baby was even his in the first place? How could he have been for sure at that time? Did anyone else suspect Trey to be the father?

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And okay, yeah, Michelle’s a whiny, nosy brat but the fact that Ben prides himself on allowing her to die is repulsive. What are the lessons being taught here, Mrs. Flynn? And sure, we can’t forget that he did save Libby’s life; granted he hated Michelle, but that was still his sister! I just don’t understand his logic or anything about how he finds peace in knowing he co-conspired his sister’s death (sort of).

I don’t think I will ever be at peace with Ben’s content with knowing his best, worst and only character trait is to “stay still and take it.” When you think about it, he is worse than both Diondra and Trey; he is more soulless than any of the characters in this book. Ben is cold-blooded to the touch and he doesn’t even care. Even though he wasn’t technically guilty of the murders, he is guilty of being a horrible human being by omission.

Goddamnit, Flynn, you’ve done it again! Dark Places had me going through all the emotions and plot twists and emotional feels only good books can do. Damn, I love you!


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Written by Paris Close

Paris Close

Editor-in-chief at Paperback Paris. Saving myself for Andy Cohen. Give me Gillian Flynn, or give me death.