This week I’ve been reading… Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (and I won’t be sleeping again)

I’ve been on a bit of a thriller hype the past few months. It had always been a genre I’ve avoided because, well, I’m a massive scaredy-cat. But I couldn’t ignore all the clamour being made about Girl on the Train so I jumped on that bandwagon. And loved it.

It seems obvious to say it, but it was so gripping, couldn’t-put-it-down, a-real-page-turner – just all the clichés.

And the more thrillers I read the more arrogant I was getting because I just wasn’t finding them that scary. They had moments that made me tense up but nothing that was actually keeping me up at night. I was really starting to think that I had got over my wimpiness.

Well, Dark Places, I take it all back.

This book is messed up. It’s dark, creepy, violent, haunting, unflinching, gruesome, harrowing, graphic, macabre; literally any adjective you can throw at it. It was everything I expected thrillers to be and in the worst possible way. I couldn’t sleep after reading this book. I triple checked there was no one hiding in the bathroom before turning the light off. If there had been room in the freezer it would have been going in Joey-style (but unfortunately I’d just done a big shop and it was chock-full of potato waffles). And I am now in the process of completely rearranging my bookshelves so that I can’t see it from my bed because I really do not want to catch sight off it as I’m drifting off and start dwelling on satanic rituals and those poor poor cows.

Like all Gillian Flynn novels Dark Places is set in a small town in the rural Midwest with plenty of browbeaten and morally corrupt characters. It’s quite a feat to have written three books and not a single one of them contain a happy person.

Twenty-four years earlier Libby Day’s mother and two sisters had been killed by her brother, Ben, in what is assumed to be some kind of cult ritual. As the only survivor, Libby testifies against her brother in court and spends the next twenty years living completely withdrawn from society, relying on the income from support groups and fundraising. When the money begins to dry up she receives a timely letter from an amateur investigator convinced of Ben’s innocence offering to pay her if she’ll help him track down those involved in the case and question them. And through this Libby starts to realise just how little she really knew about her brother.

When I started reading Dark Places I’d not very long ago finished listening to the first series of Serial (I know, I know, only two years late to the party) and they were surprisingly similar. Teenage boy convicted of murder, doesn’t have an alibi but the case is pretty weak, and years later someone starts looking back into it and questioning those involved. Of course I immediately started worrying that, like Serial, Dark Places wouldn’t have a definitive ending, I wouldn’t get closure. And there’s nothing I hate more than a book that leaves questions dangling. So you cannot imagine how happy I was when I came across a flashback chapter. Thank goodness, it is impossible not to tie up all the loose ends when you’ve got flashback chapters.

Throughout the book the narrative flips between present-day Libby as she investigates the massacre, and the characters of her mum and Ben on the night before the killings. Often I can dislike a book with an alternating narrative because just as I’m getting into one character it switches to another one and I have to completely readjust, but I never felt like that with Dark Places – I was just so desperate to know what was going to happen next in the plot that I didn’t care who’s perspective it was in.

There were some points in the plot that I felt were a bit of stretch. The ending, for one, while wrapping everything up nicely was just a little too coincidental. And really, how many amateur crime fighting clubs have you ever come across with unlimited time and thousands of pounds at their disposal?

But aside from that (and if you don’t mind being haunted by thoughts of dead cows and blood stained walls every time you close your eyes) I highly, highly recommend.

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