Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Libby Day is the survivor of an attack that saw her mother and two sisters murdered, apparently by her brother Ben. Rightly so, probably, Libby isn’t exactly a well-rounded and balanced lady. Living off the tail-end of donations made by the public in the wake of the family tragedy that have meant that she’s never had to work a day in her life, Libby is self-centred, morbid, socially awkward and struggling with depression. Descriptions of characters don’t get much more accurate than Libby’s description of herself on the first page:
“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders…I was not a lovable child and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul and it would be a scribble with fangs”
Aside from Libby, I also really liked the portrayal of Ben. Believed by a group of crime groupies to be wrongly convicted, there’s a whiff of martyr about Ben occasionally, which I would usually find a bit irritating. What’s clever (and kept me guessing for most of the book) though is the marked difference between the incarcerated Ben of the present day and the unruly teen of twenty-five years earlier. I’d read all day about miscarriages of justice without batting an eye but what really kept me glued to this book was that I had no clue whether Ben was guilty or not.
Dark Places shifts perspectives for each chapter, with the narrative alternating between Libby in the present day and various members of her family twenty-five years earlier. I’m not always sold on mixing up timelines and narrators but Flynn manages it perfectly. The narrative set in the past moves along at just the right rate to stop the slightly dawdling narrative in the present day from getting stale or from ploughing on through too many hints at the past without delivering the goods. Discovering the truth “as it happens” in the past also removes the need for any awkward turn around from Libby and her inclination towards repression and avoidance.