On its own, Dark Places is probably a very good book. But if you have read Gillian Flynn’s other novels, Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, Dark Places will seem familiar, derivative.
Dark Places may not be the page turner that Gone Girl was, but I still really like the way Flynn composes her novels. Her back-and-forth style not only creates suspense and tension, it gives the characters a chance to tell the story. You hear events from one character, and in the next chapter, another character corrects the errors, fills in the blanks, expands the story. I also think she is a uniquely descriptive writer.
That said, there is certainly a recipe to the success of her novels. Start with a troubled girl. Throw in a tragic past. Give her an addiction or vice. Make her family dysfunctional. Add a colleague who may turn into a love interest. Include one or two truly terrifying women. Turn the female protagonist into an amateur detective. End on a slightly optimistic note that still makes you feel dirty.
Libby Day is the troubled girl in Dark Places. In her tragic past her sisters and mother were killed, and when the signs and the townspeople pointed to Libby’s brother, she claimed he killed them. Libby’s vice is that she has lived off insurance money for 25 years. She doesn’t want to hold a job, have friends, clean herself or her apartment. And yes, she drinks and steals. Her possible love interest is Lyle, a member of the local Kill Club, a strange organization that is fascinated by murders and believes her brother is innocent. Libby herself is a pathetic character, but the doozy in this novel is Diondra, a sexually precocious 15-year-old addict, alcoholic, abuser, Satan worshipper. She’s a peach.
When Libby’s insurance money starts to run out, she teams up with Lyle and the Kill Club, who pay her to reconnect with her father and incarcerated brother, and sell mementos from her dead family. It’s no surprise that she begins to question her brother’s conviction and doubt her memories.
I would like to say that this book also ends more hopefully than it begins. But in the end Libby’s family is still dead (that isn’t a spoiler) and now you have the Diondra character in your head.