Libby needs a happy place

Here’s a fictional crime story with vague whiffs of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (Kansas + farm family + murder).

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The strength of Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s new novel, lies in the “who could’ve dunnit” intrigue that keeps us guessing ’til the surprising but bit-of-a-stretch ending.

Its weakness lies in protagonist Libby Day’s angry, sarcastic, resentful, foul-mouthed and mistrusting voice that comes across as “worked” by the author.

Libby was seven when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered in their Kansas farm house one January night. She gave the convicting testimony that imprisoned her teen-aged brother, Ben, for the crime.

It’s 25 years later and a fan club obsessed with famous crimes taps Libby for information about her family’s murder, a.k.a. “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” After the club accepts her money-for-information proposal, Libby agrees to talk with brother Ben, her father, Ben’s girlfriend and others connected to the crime and report back.

The club members believe Ben is innocent. Memories of that horrible night are Libby’s “dark places.”

I became impatient with the dead narrative zones in the book’s mid-section – places where actions and conversations stagnate forward movement – but it’s Libby’s cocky, miserable attitude that keeps this crime novel from being a winner. It takes up a lot of emotional space in the book and becomes, at times, inflated prose that competes with Flynn’s otherwise good storytelling.