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A roller-coaster ride through the depths of depravity in rural Kansas

A review of Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

She looks like a nice person, and I have no reason to believe that she isn’t. But she writes about some of the most twisted, miserable, good-for-nothing human beings imaginable.

Dark Places, the second of Gillian Flynn’s three novels to date and the second I’ve read (after her spectacular current best-seller, Gone Girl), takes a novel approach to unraveling the truth behind a 1985 mass murder in the American Heartland known as the Satanic Ritual Murders of Kinakee. Kinakee is a small, depressed farm town in Kansas, but we learn little about the town. The murders took place in the middle of the night on the small, failing farm of the Day family, where Patty Day and her four children — 15-year-old Ben, 10-year-old Michelle, and Debby and Libby, who are eight and seven respectively — have been living on the edge of starvation. Their father, Runner, has long since fled the farm, having driven it to the point of foreclosure with a series of extravagant and unnecessary equipment purchases.

Now, 24 years later, Ben is nearing 40, serving a life sentence for the murders of his mother and sisters. Libby, now 31, who survived the murders by hiding outside in the cold, has been living from the donations sent to support her and from the meager income from her book about the murders, but now the money is nearly gone. The story unfolds in chapters that alternate between Ben’s recollections of that day in January 1985, mixed with his mother’s alternate accounts, and Libby’s discoveries as the prospect of easy money that will help her avoid getting a job draws her more and more deeply into investigating the events of that day.

Flynn writes with a sure hand, and she does an outstanding job of building suspense in what seems an effortless manner. I found myself increasingly tense as the book neared its conclusion — suspecting I knew what had happened but doubting myself because it seemed so unlikely. Unfortunately, I was right, and that contrived ending is the book’s biggest flaw. But it’s a roller-coaster ride all the way to the end and well worthwhile for the thrill.

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Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers