Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With a shiver-inducing plot that tears along at breakneck speed, Dark Places was every bit the eerie thriller novel I hoped it would be. Not having read Gone Girl yet, I had no idea what to expect from Gillian Flynn—but boy, was I not disappointed.

I’ll call this book what it is: deliciously disturbing. So disturbing, in fact, that more than once I sat reading in my bath water long after it had turned cold, unable to tear myself away from the creepiness. And that is what I call a good thriller. Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, the sole survivor of the brutal Satanic ritual massacre in which her entire family was slaughtered—save for her brother, Ben, who was charged with the murders. Now an adult, Libby finds herself (quite understandably) unable to cope with the trauma of her childhood. In desperate need of money, Libby agrees to meet with a group of true crime enthusiasts and amateur investigators. The members are obsessed with her family’s case and, as it turns out, believe her brother to be innocent. When the group convinces Libby to meet with Ben in prison, it’s then that the secrets start to trickle out and the lies that Libby has so long believed to be true begin to blur.

Since I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, I’ll stop there with the details—but know this: Gillian Flynn is a master of suspense. If you (like me, until this book) have yet to crack open one of her novels, you’re in for a wild ride (and some late nights). The woman really knows how to tear a reader apart with her horrific hints and irresistible cliffhangers. It’s absolutely drool-worthy. She also did a masterful job at capturing the feel of the Midwest, especially in her descriptions of small town life, rural poverty, and the antics that kids with nothing to see but cornfields get up to when the world’s too busy for them. As someone from small town Nebraska who grew up surrounded by cornfields, this book made me shiver with its spot on depictions of how fast rumors can travel and the devastation they can bring.

Another thing Flynn completely nails with this book is her relatable characters, which is not something you’d necessarily expect from a story about Satanic cults, family massacres, and ritual slaughter. Still, I found Libby Day to be pretty down-to-earth, all things considered. She’s the spunky sort of heroine you love to root for. And Ben. Ben. The alleged murderer, shrouded in secrets, was easily the character who resonated with me the most, even though the vast majority of the book had me torn as to whether or not he was guilty. Was Ben creepy? Yes. Was he pretty damn questionable the entire book through? Yes again. But did you also feel for him throughout his interactions with the jocks at school and his relationship with the hot mess that was Deondra? Oh, holy hell yes. Ben’s character was so multifaceted. I only hope I’m able to capture that same depth with my own characters.

While the relatable characters and fast-paced nature of this book make it very enjoyable, something I didn’t like so well was the far-fetched twist the plot takes towards the end. I’m staying mum on what it is because I don’t want to spoil the fun, but for me it was just…too much. I guess it fits with a couple of the larger than life characters, but it started to feel like a cheesy slasher movie in a couple places. The ultimate ending of the book, though, was shocking and satisfying, which is a hard thing to pull off in a thriller; you’ve got a whole book that’s been building and building, and then—flop. So many books just fizzle out. They don’t go big enough. Gillian Flynn goes big enough.

If you’re looking for a book that’ll suck you into its darkness and have you ripping through pages, Dark Places will deliver the goods. It’s well-crafted, delightfully sinister, and full of characters that will have you squirming in your seat each time they hit a little too close to home. Dark Places is not for the faint of stomach, nor is it for the faint of heart. At times, it’ll nudge you to explore your own dark places—which is where the real dreadful stuff lies. After all, like Libby says in the novel, “The truly frightening flaw in humanity is our capacity for cruelty – we all have it.”

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