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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

American Gothic At Its Finest

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

When Libby Day was seven years old, her entire family was massacred one night in what seemed like a Satanic ritual killing. She only escaped by hiding in the woods where she ended up losing some of her toes and fingers because of the extreme cold. For the last twenty years her brother Ben has been imprisoned for the murders and Libby Day has stayed well away from him.

For all that time she's been living on money donated by people who were touched by news footage of a traumatised seven year old orphan. Now, that money has run out and she's got to make her way in the world, unaided.

Unfortunately, Libby has no work-experience and no education. The idea of getting a proper job intimidates her. That's how come she ends up getting involved with the Kill Club, a group of murder-obsessed oddballs who have been fascinated by the story of her family for years. They're prepared to pay good money to hear her speak about that night.

But when Libby goes to talk to them she finds the Kill Club members less than sympathetic. In their opinion the Satanic ritual story is bogus, the evidence that the seven-year-old Libby presented to the court was flimsy and Ben is an innocent victim.

Initially furious, Libby eventually begins to reassess her memory of that night. What starts out as a response to a bunch of crime-fixated anoraks becomes a serious quest to find out what really did happen to her family. But when she begins lifting stones and peering underneath, what she encounters very nearly gets her killed all over again.

This is a book that lives up to its name. It contains the most graphic violence I have ever encountered in a novel, including a scene where a child is murdered with an axe. It's difficult to read in places and none of the characters are really likeable. But Gillian Flynn is an incredibly accomplished author. Her mastery of voice, her eye for detail and her pitch-perfect dialogue allow her to make flawed characters surprisingly sympathetic and an utterly improbable plot entirely believable. This is American Gothic at its finest.