513 of 554 people found the following review helpful
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.
160 of 171 people found the following review helpful
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.
274 of 312 people found the following review helpful
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.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2010
THREE QUICK POINTS:
* Point 1: Multiple personality disorder. The book alternates between three different perspectives, the main character Libby Day (in first person), and Patty and Ben Day (in third person).
* Point 2: A twisted Jerry Springer episode. None of the characters had any redeeming qualities, but on some level, they were truly human. And the situation, as it unfolded, was twisted but on some level you had to wonder could this possibly happen?
* Point 3: Smartly written. I am surprised and delighted by Flynn's fluid writing style.
Twenty-five years after her mother and two sisters were slaughtered, Libby Day finds herself nearly penniless, which is why she was willing to dredge up her past by the offer of quick and easy cash.
Back in early January 1985, when the murders occurred, Libby's brother Ben had been accused, arrested, and convicted--partly due to Libby's own testimony. But as Libby starts looking at the actual events of the day, she realizes that her memories might not have been accurate.
As Libby puts the pieces of the puzzle together, working from the present to the past, we the readers get to see the events unfolding from the past to the present through Patty and Ben Day's perspectives beginning on that fateful morning.
The prose and flow of this novel is enthralling. Flynn has this way with words that just tugs at your physical senses, and she deftly handled switching between the various points of view (Libby, Patty, & Ben). One problem, however, was that it became difficult to connect with the characters on more than a superficial level. Right when I thought I was finally connecting with Libby, bam I'm thrown into Patty's or Ben's story and vice versa. Some of the switching also provided lulls right when the action from one character's perspective began to pick up, so it was constantly building tension then dropping like a stone.
That said, it could have much more to do with the actual characters than Flynn's shifting between them. Libby is a bitter kleptomaniac who's deeply troubled, partly due to what happened to her family and partly because that's who she is.
Patty, though I hate to admit it, is probably a good reflection of most struggling mothers and, of the three characters, seemed most genuine. Her stress was understandable, her motives were clear, and her actions reflected it. She was real.
Ben was just twisted in ways that I'm still trying to piece together. How much can be blamed on just being a teenage boy in a bad situation and just plain having a screw loose isn't exactly clear. He may very well reflect some teenage boys (actually, I'm certain he does), but he was just too incongruous. Either way, it was difficult to get beneath the surface. Then there's the Ben after he's all grown up. We get a clearer picture of who he is and I was glad to see that he'd learned much from his youth (spent mostly in prison).
One section of the book completely took me out of the story. Unfortunately, I can't say much else because it would be a HUGE spoiler. Let's just say that a chapter just randomly appeared out of nowhere from a different perspective and it left me scratching my head and wondering what just happened?
At the end of the day, this story needed at least one redeeming character to provide some level of balance. And it would have helped if the momentum and tension of each character's story built upon each other. (Not to say every chapter was jarring, but a few toward the middle and end were.) The story and climax were exciting, but not especially so.
Aside from the characters, I loved the common thread throughout the book: Money (or the lack thereof). It was interesting to watch how the desperation caused by a lack of money could destroy the lives of everyone involved and leave those in its wake an empty shell of a human.
I fluctuated between really liking and just liking this book. I loved the writing and liked the story, but unfortunately, the characters and the balance just left too much to be desired.
77 of 95 people found the following review helpful
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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2011
The worst part is that this was such a great book. The characters are fascinating, the story it sets up is gripping. While I was reading this, I loved it. You can't help but be disgusted with most of the characters at some point or another, but you can feel for them too. They feel like real, flawed people. They're what drives the story.
Libby's struggle is what makes the story more than just a crime mystery. She an unlikeable character, but she has every reason to be. You can't help but want things to work out for her.
Her mother is a desperate woman trying to raise her four children on almost no money and little time.
Ben is a troubled teenage boy who wants too much to be better than he feels he is, and to be loved. He wants to be accepted and thought of as a man, but mostly he is just ignored or outright abused by the people around him. Even with the possibility that he is a murderer (I won't tell you if he is or not, but if you've read the sympnosis, you should already know that it's a possibility), he is the kind of kid that you can't help but want to succeed. He may not be the main character, but he steals the show.
The tragedy and the quest for the truth about a murder in the family is a solid plot that works so well throughout most of the book. The problem is the ending. It doesn't make any sense at all with everything that's happened so far. The last few chapters are all over the place. The conclusion is a huge disappointment that makes it hard to look back fondly on all the wonderful things that came before.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Although I had some (plot) problems with Gillian Flynn's first novel, Sharp Objects, it was clear that she was a talented writer. I can still recall her protagonist from that story, and I think I always will.
The same is true, with this novel. The characterization is stellar, and the dialogue is spot on.
Brief summary, no spoilers:
This is the story of the brutal murder of a family, back in 1985. Only two members survived -7 year old Libby, and her brother Ben, who was 15 and was sent to prison for the murder of his mother and two other sisters.
The story is told in alternating chapters, as we switch from the viewpoint of Libby in the present time, to those of other family members back in 1985, in the hours before the crime.
It's an interesting technique - we get to see Libby as a very troubled, dysfunctional young woman, put reluctantly into a situation where she is trying to resolve the crime that shattered her. She hates to think back at that time, but she must.
So while Libby is racing to find answers, the narrative from 1985 slowly reveals what happened. The chapters play off each other perfectly, and it's just impossible to put the book down towards the end.
I do have a few quibbles, which are difficult to discuss without spoilers, but I will. I found myself a little frustrated with what I can only call very (un) fortuitous events that happen to one character in the chapters from the past. I know that people can have bad luck, and coincidences do happen, but it was all just too much, and felt a bit contrived. Sometimes less is more.
But I am giving this novel 5 stars, because the writing is just terrific, and as with the author's previous book, I know that these characters, and particularly Libby, will stay with me for a long, long time.
120 of 156 people found the following review helpful
Gillian Flynn's an awfully talented writer, but I must admit to not being a fan of the types of stories she chooses to tell. While DARK PLACES contains a lot of great prose and some compelling moments, it's ultimately a rather mean-spirited novel that doesn't add up to very much.
DARK PLACES is a crime story about dysfunctional people doing nasty things to one another. Its brutally effective, but its narrative power is diminished by Flynn's failure to provide her characters with any true depth. Instead, she presents a cast of caricatured characters who are for the most part either borderline psychotics or pathetic neurotics. While all these characters are colorful, very few of them rang true to me, and almost all of them are unlikable.
To Flynn's credit, she does construct an interesting mystery in DARK PLACES, and the novel does succeed as a pageturner. But I found myself deeply let down by the mystery's resolution, which is based on an almost ridiculous series of coincidences. The ending reads like something that Flynn threw together at the last minute, which is bitterly disappointing given the long build-up.
In short, DARK PLACES is a compelling novel, but one that features a lot of ugly characters and dark situations. If you like novels like Scott Phillips' THE ICE HARVEST or Flynn's first novel SHARP OBJECTS, you may enjoy this book a great deal. But in the end, it just wasn't my cup of tea.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2009
I loved this book. Like the title implies, this is a dark story. But it is also a well written and very engrossing story. I really got drawn in by the mystery of who killed Libby Day's family. I liked Libby, she made an interesting heroine, even though her past had left her bitter and depressed. The book slowly unravels the mystery of what really happened by alternating Libby's story, her mother Patty's story, and her older brother, Ben's story. This is a great book with great character development. Give this book a try if you enjoy dark mysteries that delve deeply into the tragedy of a family, and the ramifications to those who survived.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2014
And little Gillian would toddle out of the kitchen one morning after scrawling a short story on the fridge with a fat magic marker. Donna would walk past her, sleepily read the mishmash-ed words and scream "Stephen, our child is a bloody genius! She's just composed a thriller about a homicidal Fruit Loop that comes to life and terrorizes an elementary school! It's better than Carrie and The Secret History put together!"
And Gillian would pad into the living room and plop down on the rug and watch an episode of Scooby Doo. Disheveled. Oblivious to her parents hysteria. Her brain sucking down conspiracy theory's and demonic plot twists. Sucking commercials and pop culture and the anchorman's meringue white smile.
If you love thrillers like I do but can't tolerate a predictable plot or the same Silence Of The Lamb lunatics you've encountered time and time again you must read Dark Places. You must read Ms. Flynn period. I read Gone Girl before Dark Places and am still flabbergasted by this book. I actually think it's better than Gone Girl and could kick the competition at the box office if they ever decided to make a film out of it. The main character is fuming mad, deliciously devious and as funny as hell. The supporting cast are some of the most indelible and exquisitely executed characters I've ever come across. This novel works like a turbo charged engine. It's so masterfully engineered, so sleek and shiny and diabolical you can only stand back in awe and admiration as it spews dust and smoke into your eyes....
Ms. Flynn, I stand back in awe. You are something blown in from heaven and hell and Dark Places is searing and spellbinding and I am still reeling from it. At this point I will read anything you write... even a grocery list.