Saturday, March 21, 2015

Emmy's Book Review... Dark Places

Dark Places
Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben's innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother's? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day... especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family?

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Libby Day - the protagonist of this novel - is the youngest daughter of a family that was all murdered in one night.  She escaped out of a window and hid in the backyard.  Her brother Ben was convicted of the crime, thanks to her testimony.  Ben was rumored to be involved with devil worship, and the brutal way the family was killed coupled with the pentagrams and words smeared on the walls only seemed to back up this fact.  

There is no gilding the lily on this tale.  It’s dark. I’ve heard people call it vile, and upsetting, and that they felt like they needed a good scrub after finishing it.   While I wouldn’t go that far, there is no doubt that the characters are damn hard to like.  It’s a desperate tale of some pretty desperate people.  Everybody knows a family like them, or is related to one, or at one time was just like them.  Most people would have classified the Day family as white trash.  The children were never clean, were never fed properly, their clothes were often ragged and falling apart.  Libby mentions that she and her sisters were the cause of at least three lice outbreaks in their school.  To tell the truth, when the family was killed, some of their neighbors probably whispered to each other that they brought it on themselves.

The POV flashes from Libby in the present day, to her mom Patty and brother Ben, both in 1985, so you are getting the story from several different angles. The 1985 portions of the story give you insight into all of the things that Libby wouldn’t have known, carrying us through the last few days leading up to the slaughter.  Libby was only seven when this happened, so she didn’t know all of the drama that was going on at the time.  All she knew was that she lived on this run down farm with her mom and brother and sisters, in what anyone on the outside looking in would classify as abject poverty.  To them it was just life.  Isn’t that always the way it is, when we look back as grown ups?  We say well, yeah, we did heat the house with one kerosene heater, that’s not weird is it? Yeah, we did get most of our wardrobe from yard sales, didn’t everybody?  No, everybody didn’t, face it kid, you were living worse than most.  

It was slow starting off - Libby is damaged physically and mentally, mostly mentally, and I really wasn't sure if I liked her much at all at first.  The only reason she starts investigating it at all is because she needs money.  The money that people donated to her over the years has run out and now she has to grow up and make a real life for herself instead of wallowing in the fact that her brother killed her mom and sisters.  She just struck me as lazy and whiny and it pissed me off. It seemed to me that she was using the murders as an excuse to be.... for lack of a better word, a slob.  She says she can't concentrate on things, can’t hold a regular job, can't remember to eat or pay bills, etc etc-- I found myself wondering how she managed to display enough agency to get her driver’s licence.  Perhaps I’m not showing enough compassion, but hey, I’m not the nicest person in the universe either.  She gets an offer from a fellow named Lyle to speak to his group about her family.  She takes the job, hoping to get enough rent money to last her for awhile.  

Lyle is involved with a group known as the Kill Club, a conspiracy theory/criminal historian fan club type thing.  It’s actually many different groups all meeting in one place, and the group that Lyle hires her to speak to is convinced that her brother didn’t kill her family.  Her first meeting with them is pretty rough, because they put her on the spot with some uncomfortable questions that she is not prepared to answer.  Looking back at the court records, it’s obvious that her testimony was coached.  A few days after this she contacts Lyle again with an idea: she will re-investigate the murders, talk to the people involved, for a series of  fees.  Lyle agrees, and Libby begins her search.

The more that Libby digs into her past, the more new information presents itself.  She is shocked to discover that on the day of the killings that her brother was wanted by the police for questioning.  He had been accused of child molestation by a girl in Libby’s school.  The girl’s father is on the group’s list of possible suspects. Could Ben really have done as he was accused? More mysteries emerge the deeper Libby delves into the rabbit hole.  Was Ben really involved with devil worship, or was that a convenient cover for the real killer?  Did her father, Runner, have anything to do with it?  Runner had an alibi for that night, but over the years his girlfriend has retracted her statement, saying that she really didn’t know what time he arrived home that night.   She knew that he was always trying to get money out of her mom, convinced that she had money hidden from him.  Runner was never a candidate for father of the year, but could he have taken an axe to his ex-wife and one of his children in a fit of rage?  Or did he just tell someone he owed money to that there was money in the house?  Who is the mysterious Diondra, and why does she have a note from her mixed in with her family’s possessions?  For every question answered, two more appear.

This book really kept me on my toes guessing who did what.  Every time that I thought I had it figured out, the author would throw another monkey wrench into the works.  As I approached the end of the book I honestly had no clue how the story would play out.  The ending was not what I expected, which is always a plus for me.  I’ve wondered, with the success of Gone Girl, if we would be seeing Gillian Flynn’s other novels brought to the screen.  I would definitely love to see this piece of genius writing brought to life in all of it’s depraved gory glory, but I wonder if our tender American stomachs can handle what it would take to do it justice.  This is not a pretty tale, and I didn’t finish it with a feeling of triumph or success.  But it was worth the reading, if only to remind myself that while not all endings are necessarily happy, they can be at the very least satisfying.   

I will be going on to Flynn’s other novel, Sharp Objects, very soon.  I have to confess, while I’m a little afraid of her, I love the way her mind works!

Till next time.

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