Review: Believable Murder Colors Quiet Prairie

Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ was a phenomenal success, and her 2009 novel ‘Dark Places’ is just as interesting and mysterious.

Author Gillian Flynn broke into popular culture and became a household name with her hit “Gone Girl,” which was adapted into the 2014 film of the same title starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck.

Flynn wowed with her most popular thriller, but her other novels, including “Dark Places” (2009), are likewise interesting and mysterious.

“Dark Places” is the perfect read for a Halloween weekend.

At 7 years old, Libby Day was the only survivor of a brutal family massacre in the small farming town of Kinnakee, Kansas.

The murder is hailed as the “Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee” and the suspected – and convicted – murderer is Libby’s own brother.

Years later, Libby has burned through the money in her survivor fund and is psyching herself up for finding a real job when she’s approached by the Kill Club, a group of people obsessed with the worst crimes of history, with a proposition: discover who really killed her family.

At first, Libby resists, believing her 7-year-old self more than she believes her doubts. Yet as Libby looks further into the facts and history of her family’s murder, and the people involved, her strong conviction of her brother’s guilt is slowly shifted until she inevitably is faced with the question: Who killed the Days?

None of Flynn’s characters are truly innocent or even likeable — a highlight of her writing.

The readers can take sides, opting to defend Libby’s childhood testimony against her brother as coercion or even believe Libby’s brother is innocent of the crime he supposedly committed. However, Flynn makes sure that each character is impeccably human — they make mistakes, they lie, they cheat, they’re overall imperfect.

Flynn’s side characters are equally as developed as her main characters. This adds a layer of believability to the whole story and also adds depth to the setting and plot. It’s hard to believe that a family wasn’t killed 25 years ago and that the only surviving child is living in Kansas while her brother serves his sentence in prison.

The climax of “Dark Places” was unexpected, but not in a good way. So, if you’re looking for the same shock-and-awe that “Gone Girl” had, this isn’t going to deliver.

However, it’s hard to deny Flynn is a master storyteller who can not only create a fantastic mystery, but also really warped characters.

Using moments from Libby’s present day (pulling the story forward) and moments from the day of the murders, Flynn slowly recreates the events leading up to the killing. The suspense is subtle, but by the end the reader is inevitably drawn to the edge of their seat, waiting to discover the final truth.

Even though Flynn’s fame came from only one of her novels, this author has plenty more to give to the genre of mystery and thrillers.

Like with “Gone Girl,” Flynn sets up a mystery with complex, unpredictable characters in a setting that makes them vulnerable to their own vices. How Flynn chooses to tell the story — jumping from present to past, and from character to character — gives texture to the suspense of the novel. She gives just enough clues to keep readers interested, without being overwhelmed by the information or bored from the lack of mystery. Overall, Flynn’s novel was consistently entertaining, making it a book that can easily be read in one tense sitting.

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