I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl last winter and loved it—I basically devoured it, and read it in just a few hours. I’ve been trying to get ahold of her earlier books since then but it took me until now to get my hands on this one because they’re pretty much always checked out at the library.
Dark Places is about Libby Day, a woman in her late twenties whose family was brutally murdered when she was only seven. Her older brother, Ben, then only fifteen, is serving a life sentence for the crime, based largely on Libby’s testimony. Libby’s life is filled with anxiety and depression and loneliness—she has nothing left, having driven away her remaining extended family and having used up almost all of the money she received from well-meaning strangers who heard of her story. Things are shaken up when Libby gets contacted by a member of “the Kill Club,” a group that meets to discuss and solve old mysteries. They think that her brother, Ben, is innocent—and they’re willing to pay Libby a lot of money to help them figure out what really happened on that night.
I, unfortunately, did not like this book anywhere near as much as Gone Girl. It’s definitely not a bad book—it’s actually a pretty good one—but it’s (aptly, given the title) so unrelentingly dark that I couldn’t really stomach it. Gone Girl was dark too, for sure, but it had a wicked sense of humor and a campiness that made it fun and full of twisty, shocking goodness. Dark Places is missing that quality—it’s all of the horror and disturbing detail (and, quite frankly, significantly more) without anything to balance it out. Before I read this, I read a review of it on Goodreads or someplace similar that said that the reader didn’t like Flynn because she was too misanthropic. I totally get that now, and I really feel the same way. It might just be a personal preference thing, but I really feel that books dealing with really heavy and scary subject matters (so, most thrillers/mysteries/crime novels/horror books) need to have some kind of balance to them. Humor, or a sense of camp, or some glimpse of hope and light–something to cut through the bleakness. There needs to be some humanity, I think, which is what it really comes down to. That was totally missing here, and it left me just feeling completely depressed and in a really weird mental place. Again, this could be just a personal thing, and like I said, it’s an objectively good mystery in a lot of ways, but I couldn’t get past it.
Also, the actual plot is a little bit convoluted and I felt like the ending was sort of out of nowhere and convoluted. And again, not in a shock-and-awe campy way like Gone Girl—this just sort of felt like Flynn was taking an easy way out.
So, overall, I’d just stick with Gone Girl. I’ve sort of lost interest in Flynn as an author after reading this, and I’m guessing that was definitely not what she was going for.