on May 4, 2009
Libby Day was seven years old when her mother and two sisters were massacred in a blood-soaked home invasion dubbed by the press as "The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas." It was Libby's testimony which put her then-fifteen-year old brother, Ben, into prison for the rest of his life for the heinous murders.
Now, it is almost twenty-five years later, and Libby, depressed, angry and broke has agreed to attend a meeting of the Kill Club, a strange conglomerate of people obsessed with famous murders. Some of the Kill Club members have become interested in the murders of Libby's family because they are convinced that Ben has been wrongly convicted. After meeting with the Kill Club, Libby, although still sure that Ben is the murderer, decides to try to make some cash from her family's grisly history by charging the Kill Club members to interview people who might have further information about the murders.
In hauntingly compelling prose, this wonderfully talented author deftly unfolds the story of what really happened during the early morning hours of January 3, 1985, and how searching for, and uncovering, that truth will change the lives of Libby and Ben.
The book is told in an interesting intermittent flashback format, with Libby, tough and damaged from her horrific childhood, narrating the present-day chapters in first-person, while the flashback chapters, told in third-person, describe the actions of several key characters on one winter's day in 1985.
Besides Libby, the most fascinating character in the book is that of Ben, the awkward, aimless, angry boy, tottering on the brink of manhood. Ben, yearning for the father-figure which he never had, and being raised in a poverty-stricken household by a single overwhelmed mother, surrounded by bothersome little sisters, is such a troubled, unlikeable protagonist. Yet this author makes the reader see the good in Ben and how much he wants to fit in, even as the story moves the angst-ridden teenager inexorably toward the unspeakable crimes which are at the center of the narrative.
This author's prose style is unique, complex and utterly creative. She is almost Dickensian in her ability to paint a word picture of a situation or a character in a few phrases. For instance, in the first chapter Libby describes herself after the murders: "Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives...stuck in a series of mobile homes or rotting ranch houses all across Kansas." When Libby sees her brother Ben for the first time in almost twenty-five years, she views him through the glass at the visiting room at the prison: "He looked so much the same, pale face, that Day knob of a nose. He hadn't even grown much since the murders. Like we all got stunted that night."
This novel is a fascinating murder mystery, but it is so much more than that. It is a wise, evocative character study -- a glimpse into the lives of people who are lost and are struggling to find their way in a dangerous world. Some never find a path, some show others a path, and some find refuge -- which can be either heaven or hell. But all of these people -- for better or worse -- matter, and their intertwined lives are a lesson to the reader that even the tiniest action may have huge unintended consequences.
Who killed Libby Day's family? This is the mystery that is presented on the first page and the subsequent chapters detail Libby's attempt - half-hearted at first, to get the answers she so desperately needs in order for her to get on track in life. The book alternates points of view from Libby in present day to various characters from the past - describing the events that led up to, and include the infamous day of the murders twenty-five years previous - January 2, 1985.
The book is paced and the author writes excellent and well developed descriptions of the characters - Libby's mother, aunt Diane, sisters and brother - as well as of the setting of the Kinnakee, Kansas farm and Libby's house on the bluff in Kansas City, Missouri. (As a KCMO native, I was surprised to find a book set in this Midwest city because it is so rare and I really enjoyed that fact about the book.)
Because of the way the novel is written, the various points of view in each chapter are used to advance Libby's determination and investigation into actually and finally finding out who killed her family and why. The plot is revealed in layers and the reader isn't quite sure how all of this is going to come together - but it does. This is not a heart pounding thriller, but a more dark and plodding one - you know that denouement is just around the corner - you're hoping that Libby is going to get the information she wants as she confronts first one and then another of the surviving family and others involved with the search for the killer(s) of her family. Indeed, the hangers on - the Kill Club members - and her father, the loser Runner, only add to her consternation as she seems thwarted at every turn. Even her own brother, Ben, imprisoned by her testimony, seems to put roadblocks up instead of providing answers in the case.
This is not a book for the squeamish and describes some grisly scenes that include depictions of bloody murder and one of senseless animal torture. Libby, the protagonist, is not a loveable character, but one who grows on the reader as we are drawn into her world. We almost feel her lassitude and recognize how much energy her efforts cost her. We root for her, but are wondering if we really do want to know the answers. Is Ben guilty or not? No one associated with this crime is free of criminal association or above suspicion.
All in all - a good whodunit with a very appropriate ending.
The basic plotline of this story was excellent. Youngest daughter in a single-mother family of four survives the slaughter of said family and then testifies that her brother was the killer. Nearly twenty-five years later circumstances arise that make her question everything she's ever known and the ensuing story about finding answers leads us to a resolution. I thought this premise sounded very interesting and that the novel would provide me with a little bit of thought-provocation and a lot of suspense.
Unfortunately, the way each of these characters were written made them very unsympathetic to me as a reader. Many may disagree with me, by saying that anyone who experiences the brutal death of a family member has the right to be selfish throughout the rest of his or her life. But, I disagree with that theory and the actions of Libby Day, her tone in telling the story and her mood towards those around her who only wanted to help did not endear her to me at all.
What redeemed this novel for me were the flashback chapters told from the perspectives of Ben and Patty Day, accused brother and murdered mother respectively. Hearing the story told, in the day leading up to the murders, from their points of view were the pieces of this book that made me keep reading instead of tossing the book aside for something better. In these chapters, the author did a remarkable job of laying out the puzzles pieces that no one had been able to put together up to that point.
This story has many layers and I'm sure that different readers will get many different messages from it. I was disappointed that I didn't like the main character more, but that didn't stop me from wanting to get answers about what really happened "that night" just like she did.
This is not a novel to be read easily on a beach or vacation. You need to be open to giving all aspects of this story a lot of thought and you need to realize that there are no "warm fuzzies" anywhere within this novel, even when the mysteries are solved. If you go into it with that knowledge, then I think you'll enjoy your read much more than I did. I'm afraid I picked up this book thinking it was just like any other mystery, but it's so much more than that.
Because I wasn't expecting it, I'm not sure I appreciated all those levels as much as I could have. But, there's no denying that this is a very well-written, inventive story given to us by an extremely talented author.
on January 4, 2015
The only reason I finished this was that it was my book club's selection for this month. PLEASE don't waste your time, there was NOTHING you can walk away with after reading this book except the overwhelming feeling that you wasted your time! Not one character had any insight or at least a shred of likeability. Although I believe Flynn wanted us to sympathize and like the mother given her 'actions' at the end of the book......not even that worked. I felt like I was reading page after page of gratuitous violence, sex, language that was there just to be there.....best thing about the book is that I'm done!
on April 4, 2015
After enjoying Flynn's writing style and ability to weave a twisted plot in Gone Girl, I was looking forward to reading this book. Several people have mentioned the "unsympathetic" characters in Dark Places, and I concur completely. I found the same to be true in Gone Girl, yet I came away liking the book in the end. So I kept reading, but I cannot say the same for Dark Places. I found the grisly and graphic depictions of animal torture and slaughter (dogs and cows) to be so repulsive I nearly could not finish it. By the end of the book, I was left unsatisfied and disgusted. I would not recommend this book to my worst enemy.
Flynn's novel has the effect of blunt force trauma. With icy precision and an eye for the consequences of poverty and despair, this novel hums with discordance and the chronic misery of a family mired in unhappiness. In January, 1985, Libby Day is the survivor of a family massacre, at seven years old the only witness to the murder of her mother and two sisters on their Kansas farm. Libby's brother, Ben, has spent the last twenty-five years in jail for what an avid press describes as "The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee Kansas". A sullen, angry teenager, Ben proves an uncooperative person of interest, the public promptly labeling him a drug-addicted Satanist. Now in her thirties, Libby bears the scars of that harrowing night, when she climbed from her mother's bedroom window to escape her family's grisly fate. Carefully coached, Libby is the star witness against Ben, the jury happy to put an end to the nightmare scenario of the butchered Day family, Ben an obvious target.
An unlikely heroine, Libby is profoundly depressed, suicidal and nearly out of funds from a trust set up for the surviving victim of the crimes. A product of her environment, Libby is a manipulative liar and opportunist, a thief of people's belongings, anything to momentarily assuage the gaping hole in her life without family or hope. Approached by the Kill Club, a loose group of true crime aficionados, Libby seizes an opportunity to earn some desperately needed money by selling selected family memorabilia and visiting the brother she has not spoken to since her testimony in court. Her world already painfully distorted by the murders, contacting Ben is but another step down a dark path toward oblivion. Fearless, Libby has been waiting to die since that terrible January night.
This novel is shocking, brutal and disconcerting, an unsparing exploration of people and their motives, a harsh landscape that questions long-held assumptions about the human capacity for violence. The Days are the object of ridicule, their hand-me-down clothes and indelible mark of less-than. It is easy to recoil, to point the finger of guilt at the angst-riddled teenager, Ben, and donate money for the profoundly disturbed survivor, who bounces from place to place wreaking havoc on those who provide shelter. And as the facts of that night are revealed, layer after layer of ugliness is exposed, a confluence of violence that fills the air with screams, then silence. From the Day family to Ben's questionable associates and his flirtation with the forbidden, from bone-crushing poverty and the banality of true evil, Flynn crafts a masterpiece of cold-blooded horror with no happy ending, daring the reader to look away. Stripping the mask of innocence from the predictable response to a heinous crime, Flynn stares into the void, daring us to do the same. Luan Gaines.
on January 17, 2015
I have never left a book review before, even when I've found a book to be a disappointment but this book is so, so awful, I felt morally obligated to add my vote to the others who also found it to be an utter waste of time and money. I HATED IT.
Some have said it was too "dark." Well, it's about a family that has been savagely murdered so that's to be expected. ;) That's not my issue. The writing is awful, the characters are paper thin, predictable and boring to the point of being stereotypes. I found myself skimming the pages when I was about halfway through, debating whether to quit reading altogether. Wish I had. If Gillian Flynn hadn't had a hit with "Gone Girl," I seriously doubt anyone would have read this garbage.
on August 24, 2015
Gilliam Flynn cannot write an ending to save her life. I hated this book and its characters from the beginning but felt compelled to read it to the end because I was sure all the mysteries and questions would be revealed and the dark ache this narrative left in my mind and soul would be eased. Instead, more questions remain and plots that seemed very important were never expanded upon. However, instead of being compelled to find answers, I just wish I could have the time back I wasted on this book.
on November 12, 2015
The ending was idiotic on nearly all levels and ruined the book. It was ludicrously unlikely, made absolutely no sense, and, perhaps even worst of all, in order to make it happen, the author had the characters behave in ways that were completely contradictory to their personalities or to common sense.
If you are the sort that doesn't care that the final 40 pages are insulting to your intelligence if most of the book is suspenseful, then you might enjoy the book as a decent page turner.The characters are generally well sketched for this genre, and the author has a good grasp of pacing and plot.I actually didn't mind that central character is not lovable because that seemed to be a realistic treatment of a survivor of a massacre.
That said there were still aspects that galled. One issue to me was the pointless depictions of violence, not merely the sensational descriptions of the children's murder, but the animal violence. People mention the cow, but the dog bothered me even more because it was so unnecessary to the plot and also was my first hint that the author cannot handle character consistency. I just didn't see her killing a dog and never really regretting it. This is a character who won't eat meat.
The worst is the idea that the brother is absolved of sin because he 'only' stood by and did nothing while his pregnant teenage girlfriend brutally murdered his sister. I refuse to believe that this character would have done this, no matter how much he hated his sister; or if he would have he is a monster deserving of his fate; I don't feel sorry for him at all. The really ludicrous thing is the ending where the niece is ok with murdering her newly found aunt. Ugh. I can't even bother to develop this thought; why spend more time on reasoning this out when the author spent no time at all?
Avoid this silly book.
on April 19, 2013
After reading (and loving) Gone Girl, I couldn't wait to read this book. And I liked it, up until the end. It was also interesting to recall the so-called "Satanic Panic" of the 1980's. I had forgotten about that, but the way it was described in the book was completely accurate: in the 80's, devil worshippers were allegedly lurking around every corner, in every town in America. I was a teenager in the 80's, but I remember that quite clearly.
Even though the main character Libby is a mean, selfish, nasty human being, I still liked her as much as it's possible to like such a person. Even though she has few redeeming qualities, Gillian Flynn skillfully makes you feel empathy for Libby, almost against your will, because you understand how and why she has become such a complete train wreck.
Many of the other characters in the book are also quite flawed, but again, the author is adept at making you feel a little sympathy for their plights. The mother is clearly guilty of neglect, but when you read about her struggles you understand where she's coming from. Ben definitely has problems and makes stupid choices and decisions and is sometimes cruel, but you can see that he is mostly driven by a need for acceptance. It's the rare author that can make you care about characters who are so very deeply flawed; were you meet any of these people in real life, chances are you'd cross the street to avoid them. And there are some characters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, who are impossible to care about.
The book was moving along at a great pace, and I could hardly put it down. Then came the end. I like a good plot twist as much as the next person, but the one in this book was completely unbelievable. The explanation of what actually happened was just too out there for me. And I found Ben's actions and choices on that one particular night (and what he did after that) to be especially unrealistic.
It's a shame, because I was loving this book up until about the last 3 chapters. Proceed at your own risk.