Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dark Places

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When person or persons unknown murdered her entire family, seven year old Libby Day managed to escape and fingered her brother Ben as the killer. Now, decades later, she's a dysfunctional and nearly penniless, and after meeting some true crime enthusiasts, isn't so sure her brother was the murderer after all. Can Libby discover the truth?

After dodging Gillian Flynn for years in the wake of Gone Girl, I finally caved it when this showed up in one of my daily cheap ebook emails. Gillian Flynn, where have you been all my life?

Dark Places is a mystery but it's one of those mysteries that also happens to be brutal and very well written, like Winter's Bone or something along those lines. Libby Day is a broken adult, having never recovered from her mother and sisters being murdered by her brother. Or were they? Libby cracks open the past like a pinata and takes a look at what falls out: not candy but a lot of ugliness, more like a brood of cockroaches.

Since I live very near nowhere's asshole, rural settings always resonate with me because I understand living miles from everywhere and what could happen in the dark of night. Libby wakes up to the sounds of her family being slaughtered. Not exactly your feel-good read.

I love that instead of some notion of heroism, Libby gets involved in her family's murder because she's nearly run out of money and has no idea how to function as a normal adult. She's a kleptomaniac and has burned every familial bridge she ever trod upon. Lyle and the Kill Club light the spark but it's the lack of money that provides the fuel, at first, anyway.

Gillian Flynn crafts one hell of a mystery yarn but it's her characters that show she's more than just another mystery lover. Ben and Libby are sympathetic figures, despite both being deeply flawed. Still, she makes you understand their motivations, making them seem all too realistic. The parallel structure of the book builds the suspense. I had no idea what actually happened that night until it was pretty much spelled out for me, which I love in a mystery.

There's not much else I want to say for fear of giving something away. Dark Places. Five stars. Read it!

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Baltimore Blues

Baltimore Blues  (Tess Monaghan, #1)Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When it appears a rowing buddy of hers murdered his fiancee's boss and lover, underemployed Tess Monaghan sets about trying to clear his name. But did Rock kill ace attorney Michael Abramowitz? If he didn't, who did and why? And can Tess find out before she winds up as dead as the lawyer?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the girl I was seeing at the time told me I would like Laura Lippman. Since she was always pushing books on me, I ignored her. Maybe she was right in that one particular instance.

Baltimore Blues is a mystery that has many more layers than it first appears, like baklava. See, I could have said "onion" but that's what everyone says when they talk about layers. Anyway, it was Laura Lippman's first trip to the dance and she did a lot better than most first time novelists.

As the title indicates, Baltimore plays a big part in the book, almost a character in and of itself, much like George Pelecanos' Washington DC, Dennis Lehane's Boston, and Lawrence Block's New York. Much like Detroit, Baltimore doesn't get by on looks. It has to work for a living, to paraphrase Elmore Leonard.

Since this was the first book in the series, Lippman had some groundwork to lay and she did it in a fairly painless way. We know Tess is into rowing, has an on again/off again reporter boyfriend named Jonathan and used to be a reporter but we don't get clubbed over the head with any of it. I liked that Tess isn't hot, wasn't involved in a love triangle, and generally behaved like a real person instead of being a moron like most fictional detectives wind up being in order to advance the plot. Also, she works in a bookstore. A lady detective that works in a bookstore? Hard to top that, ladies.

Like all great mysteries, it took me forever to figure out what really happened and it turned out I was still wrong. Part of it was misdirection but I have to say I think another part of it was that it was such a convoluted affair. That was my only gripe with the book. I thought the mystery was way too serpentine and not readily solveable. Also, I'm still pretty sure Ava was boning somebody besides Rock but that was never revealed.

So, I liked Baltimore Blues quite a lot but not enough to take it into a bus station men's room and have rough intercourse with it. I'll be reading more of Laura Lippman's chronicles of Tess Monaghan. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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