I finished reading this book on May 9th, 2020 and settled on a three-star rating. I feel like my new readers/followers are probably thinking that three stars is my go-to rating, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I have partaken in so many challenges over the years that my TBR is now a mess of books that are not really my type but that I read nonetheless because “what if.” Dark Places specifically caught my eye because it was written by Gillian Flynn and I wanted to compare my experience reading both books. In terms of enjoyment, the winner is Dark Places all the way, but there were still some elements that I considered weighed enough when it came to give it a higher rating.
A quick reminder about the plot: the main character, Libby Day, was a witness to the murder of her older sisters and her mom when she was seven years old, and her testimony got her brother Ben in jail for life because of the murders. Now twenty-five years later, Libby is broke and in order to get money she starts helping this group of people who call themselves the Kill Club and who are obsessed with trying to solve the case because they believe Ben was innocent. The novel alternates between her perspective in the present as well as Ben’s and Patty’s, the mom’s, the day before the murders. We can actually read about the events leading up to the murders and I thought that was an added bonus because mystery/thrillers always tell us about what happened but years after it happened. Here, we are living it with the characters.
Again, trigger warning for basically everything. I am serious when I say reading this while you are in a vulnerable or unstable state of mind could really mess you up. If you really want to read this book, wait a few months or years until you feel strong enough because otherwise it won’t be an enjoyable experience whatsoever. At first I thought that Libby sounded exactly like Amy from Gone Girl and I was disappointed. I mean, yes, Amy is a brilliant character, but I didn’t want to read about her over again. Fortunately, there was room to grow for Libby and I actually sympathized with her and rooted for her throughout the story.
I know how you can think that the alternating timelines and perspectives might seem confusing, but it wasn’t, for different reasons. The first one is that Gillian Flynn is very organized with the structure of the story. Nothing is random or haphazard; everything is calculated, so we always got the same order: Libby, Patty, Libby, Ben. The chapters about Patty and Ben also indicated the time it was so there was that chronology to the whole thing. The story from Libby’s perspective takes place in a short time. I don’t think she indicates how much time passes between the beginning and the ending of the book, but it felt like no more than a few weeks. There’s also the fact that I read this book in five days because I was hooked, so my suggestion would be to read it at a time when you know you won’t be interrupted a lot so that nothing gets lost or forgotten.
If you’ve been around, you know that my absolute favorite mystery/thriller/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and that, although I have read my fair share of books in this genre, nothing had come close. Well, Dark Places does. And I think, in a way, Gone Girl does too, and now that we’re in it, You by Caroline Kepnes does as well, although I’ll be talking about that one in a different post. What all those books have in common are unreliable narrators, and I don’t mean a depressed woman or an alcoholic woman (it’s almost always a woman). What I mean is that you cannot believe anything or anybody at pretty much any time of the plot. You doubt every single thing. You even think for a moment that the main character, the person who is supposed to be solving the crime, might have been the one who committed the crime in the first place.
Now, this sounds like a review I’d given a higher rating, no? Where are the elements I didn’t like? Well, glad you ask because they’re right here. I think I touched on this in my initial review, and it was that Ben was thought to have committed the murders because he was part of a devil-worshipping cult or something like that. Well, as much as I love reading about cults, I didn’t like how that whole devil thing was explored. In my opinion it eas overdone, and in the end, the plot would’ve been exactly the same without that. I understand that the murders happened at a time when that was all the rage, but still, it could have been mentioned a few times, but not seriously considered an important part of the story, in my opinion.
Another thing I discovered I wasn’t really into was all the gore. The murders were pretty brutal, each done in a different way, and that itself was pretty gross to read about. What I’m really talking about is a scene that involves animal brutality, and yes, I’m one of those people who can stand (to a certain degree) reading about (fictional) brutality against humans but not animals. To me, it was too much, even for Gillian Flynn, and it ties with this other opinion of mine, which was that we got 500 pages of buildup and then no more than ten pages about what actually happened. I would’ve been fine with only the buildup, but if you’re going to tell us what happen, Gillian, you can expand a tad on that, you know? Give us at least fifty pages. Reading about everything happening so quickly and so suddenly was confusing to me and anticlimactic.
The end, in general, was a bit cheesy and rushed. Don’t get me wrong, I did cry at one part, but it was like the author had lost interest in the story altogether when she reached the 500-page mark and then did whatever she wanted to end the book. There are a few plot twists and I think they were done in a brilliant way, in which you as a reader kind of start discovering things alongside the characters, but you’re still surprised when they happened. Two particular plot twists, though, were maybe overdone. The twists were good, but then the author tried to establish these connections with other stuff that, again, weren’t really necessary and made the story seem like a cheesy detective novel, like “it was all part of this scheme.” No, that wasn’t necessary.
Wow, I wrote an essay. How do you like your mystery/thrillers? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments below.
Love, Miss Camila