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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I'm Reading: Dark Places

In preparation for the release of Gillian Flynn's newest novel Gone Girl next week, I saved my review of  her second novel Dark Places for today.  Also, this month, there was this news about the movie version of Dark Places.

Dark Places is like Flynn's first novel, Sharp Objects [use link for my review] in that they are both about family secrets and the way the past haunts the present.

Here, Libby Day is in her 30s, living in Kansas City and not doing too well.  Not that we can blame her.  Back when she was little, her Mom and 2 sisters were murdered in their isolated Kansas home and her older brother is in jail on a life sentence, charged with the murder.  Her trust fund is just about out of money, and as a result of her past, Libby has never had a real job, has no friends, and no family left around to help her.

The story has 3 points of view.  Libby in the present as she is coming to terms with her past.  She is so desperate for cash that she takes a job working for an underground serial killers club to find out what really happened to her family for the money.  The other 2 points of view are in the past in the days leading up to the murder.  We see Libby's mom's and brother's perspectives. With date and time stamps, we feel the tension as the mom's money problems and the brother's problems with 2 girls lead to the disastrous and violent conclusion we know is coming.

The three stories alternate, build to a crescendo, until you can barely take the suspense, and then, in one last fit of bloody action and plot twists, it all resolves.

This is a perfect example of everything that is wonderful about psychological suspense: the tension, the unease, the creepiness.  Flynn  particularly excels at plot twists.  This novel is a great example.  While the stories are alternating, you think you have figured it out but in the end," the truth" is much more complicated than fiction.  Which is strange because this is fiction.  But that is why this novel is so great.  While the plot twists are convoluted, they are realistic, creating a conclusion which is not neatly tied up like most books out there today.  Everything that disappointed me about The Snowman by Jo Nesbo is not here in Dark Places.  

If you like Hollywood endings that are clear cut, with good guys winning and bad buys losing with no ambiguity, do not read Flynn.

Also, satisfying is the theme of family and everything people will do to protect their family that runs throughout all of the story lines here.  It is the driving force behind the motivations of the protagonists and the villains here.  It was obviously done on purpose by Flynn, but does not feel forced. It enhanced my reading experience.  I appreciated the effort.

Other appeals here are the wonderful sense of place (Kansas City and rural Kansas), the well rounded secondary characters, and the cinematic descriptions.  Also, anyone interested in groups who get obsessed with true crime stories and fighting for the wrongly convicted will enjoy this novel.

This is a novel that needs to be experienced.  It is creepy and uneasy, with 3 extremely flawed narrators, who despite their HUGE flaws, are all sympathetic in some way.  Flynn has crafted a dark but realistic tale.  She is a really nice woman with quite a twisted mind.  I love it.  It makes me feel like I am not the only nice girl with the twisted mind out there declaring it publicly.

Three Words That Describe This Book: multiple POVs, darkly twisted story line, family secrets

Readalikes: If you use NoveList to search author readalikes to Flynn you will see 2 suggestions by me.  First, Tana French: "Both French and Flynn write dark, literary suspense stories in which extremely flawed narrators draw the reader into an emotionally charged story. Their protagonists also tend to be intimately involved with the crimes they are investigating. They create unsettling and disturbing tales filled with psychological twists and turns."  As a side note, both Flynn and French also use merging of past and present story lines to both enhance the story and increase the suspense.

Second Peter Abrahams: "Flynn and Abrahams excel at placing flawed protagonists into what the reader knows is a bad situation. Readers are held in uneasy suspense for the duration as they watch things go from bad to worse, loving ever nail biting minute."

Other authors who like Flynn create psychological suspense stories which have uneasy atmospheres, chills, creepy situations, and evil villains are: Chevy Stevens, S.J. Bolton, and Mo Hayder.

In general, I am seeing a trend with psychological suspense.  While it is still in the shadows, and not generally seen as its own genre, it is steadily growing.  More and more authors are writing these expertly creepy tales that straddle the line between suspense and horror.  People like Flynn and Hayder, in particular, are winning mainstream accolades and awards for books in which it is not clear if there is a true hero in the traditional sense. This is a big shift in popular suspense, and I am loving every minute of it.

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