Dark Places is the story of the Day family, brutally murdered in their own home, leaving only Libby Day – age seven – and her brother Ben alive. Libby pins the murders on her brother. Now, older, Libby finds herself struggling with money. She accepts cash from a group of people who seem determined to prove her brother’s innocence, and agrees to talk to the people possibly involved in the murders. Libby embarks on a journey that will have her questioning her past decisions and her brother’s role in the events of that fateful night.
Libby isn’t exactly a good person. She lives for herself, steals what she can and tries to milk her past for her own gain. All of that makes her really intriguing. It would be easy to drum up sympathy for a character like her, but Flynn takes her time in letting that happen. Instead, the Libby we’re introduced to at the start is realistic and believable, shown to have made hell for everyone who took her in as a child and someone who currently is out for herself. But as the book goes on, we see how she changes and shifts, how the world around her begins to look different. The events of her past take on a whole new meaning, and rather than doing it just for the money she does it to try to establish for herself if her brother did commit the murders or not.
Every other chapter focuses on the day of the murders. We move from Libby’s now to her mother’s last day and the day Ben’s life changed. We see that day from two different POVs, and we witness the lives of the Days, not as Libby remembers them, but as they were. We see the struggles of the family, the pain of growing up in a house full of girls. We get inside the heads of these characters and with each of these January 2nd, 1985 chapters, our understanding of the events of that day grows.
Not that everything is revealed simply. Jumping from Ben to Patty means we see what happens when rumours grow and escalate, without the target of these rumours even knowing anything about them. We see how small, innocent actions can destroy lives. It’s all small town stuff, but it’s easy to imagine it happening, even in a bigger town. It grounds it, gives it a sense of realism as the fear of Satanism and paedophilia run together, hand in hand.
Ah, yeah. Satanism. It’s woven into the book, into the story of the Days, and grounds the book in the Satanism scare of the 1980s. The videos shown at the time are referenced, and it’s an interesting take on the aspect, especially as Ben’s ‘friend’ Trey and his girlfriend are seen as ‘the Satanists’ in the town. On the day of the murders, Ben dyes his hair black, and small, tiny things like this, and his ego boosting claims to other ‘dark’ kids about sacrificing to Satan, are used against him to pin the murders on him. These aspects add up to damning evidence against him in a small town scared of anything different. But reading it now, it feels like it’s leaning, just a little, on the West Memphis Three. And, again, it adds an aspect of reality to the whole story.
The story moves seamlessly through the past and present, and Flynn brilliantly gives us glimpses into what actually happened without anything being revealed too soon. This is, essentially, the story of a family with awfully bad luck, of lost and broken kids and the easy way in which fingers can be pointed to someone. It makes for a brilliant, interesting read, one which I found very difficult to put down.