Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Ok, so here goes with the first review! I want to say ahead of time that Gillian Flynn is one of my favorite authors, so I was biased about this book before I even began it. I had already read Gone Girl, so I thought I knew what I was getting into, but the story still managed to be so much better than any of my expectations.

Okay, but beside from the incredibly odd and at times exhilarating plot, the novel also has the wonderful dark and gritty style/tone that Gillian Flynn always wins me over with. When reading, you don’t even really realize how improbable the plot would be in real life, and are swept away in the world Libby Day finds herself in. Of course, when you step away or try to explain it you sound like a crazy person. Oh well!

One of my favorite things, though, is that you really don’t like Libby Day. More than an unreliable narrator, she’s really an unlikable person. So you believe right off the bat that she has lied and/or is still lying, which makes it so easy to be swept away by each of Lyle’s new theories about who killed the Days (was it Runner? Was it the neighbor? Was it Diondra’s jealous other lover? Was it the molested girl’s father? Was it some stranger who wandered through? Could Libby have done it herself?). From opening page through last line, prepare to be swept away and constantly questioning every new revealed complexity.

Spoilers about the plot to follow, so if you haven’t read it yet, STOP NOW!

So, this story is completely whack.

We start with Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters were murdered almost 30 years ago, on the family farm in a small Kansas town. Libby survived, as did her brother Ben. Ben was charged with the crime, and has been imprisoned since. We open with Libby’s lawyer/accountant/only friend informing her that she has no money left.

Conveniently, Lyle, a weird but well-meaning dude who enjoys investigating horrific crimes (and who just-so-happens to have started one of the largest wild fires in Californian history) shows up and offers Libby some much-needed cash to look back on just what happened.

Initially Libby and Lyle believe Runner Day, deadbeat Dad extraordinaire might be the true killer, but he turns out to be as useless as Libby always thought he had been.

What really happened is as incredible as only a novel can be:

Mommy Day was actually murdered by a serial killer who she contracted to make her suicide look like murder, so that her kids could benefit from her life insurance policy, and go live with her sister Diane. However, Ben’s preggo girlfriend Diondra was in the house that night, since the two were planning on running away. Little sister #1 catches them in the act, and runs to tell mom. Dio catches the girl, and strangles her to death, while Ben yells at her to stop. This commotion awakens little sister #2, who runs to tell mom what’s going on. Unfortunately, she runs straight into the arms of mom’s killer, who shoots the girl to preserve his identity. So, all three are killed, but none by Ben. Libby only escapes because she was sleeping in mom’s room that night, and so missed everything.

The amazing thing though, is that Ben really did kill his family, in a sense. He was at the time being accused of having molested a young girl who he volunteered with at the local school. The accusation, although unfounded, occurred because the young girl was jealous that Ben was really in love with Diondra. The upcoming legal trouble for Ben was partly what pushed Mommy Day into her desperate hiring of her and her middle daughter’s eventual murderer (the other reason being that the farm was in danger of being foreclosed upon).  The other sister was also only killed because of Dio’s presence in the house that same fateful night, and the drugs that the two love-bird teenagers had taken after hanging out with Runner Day (meaning he was also, in a roundabout way, involved in the killings in the end).

So Ben goes to jail, in part because he played up his “Satanist” beliefs in the courtroom (really it was Diondra who believed it all; Ben went along because he truly loved her and wanted to do right by their future child). The evidence from the young girl who accused him of molestation also played a part in his conviction.

And somehow, through cold-calling people found in the phone-book and stalking a stripper at a strip-club in nowhere, Kansas, Lyle and Libby manage to somehow uncover the truth and vindicate Ben. Diondra, alias “Polly Palm”, even gets hers and ends up in prison. Although her daughter disappears into the night… maybe she’ll lead to a sequel (hey, a dairy-product can dream).

And, I guess Libby eventually should find a day job since she’s still as broke as her mother had once been. Maybe Lyle will give her a job in one the laundromats that he owns?

AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? The movie was only ok, to be honest. It’s got a star-studded cast, and while it was an enjoyable thing to watch, to much of the tone from the book was lost in translation. Still, I’ve watched it twice. Probably will even watch again (although that’s mostly because I’ve got a major crush on Charlize Theron). 6/10 for the movie, and that may be somewhat generous.


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