When asked to choose a favorite villain, it seemed such an overwhelming task. There are so many devilishly delightful villains, how can you possibly choose just one?! Well, I thought long and hard about this. As much as I would love to have a dinner date with Hannibal Lector, I could never match his intelligence and he would tire of me quickly. Perhaps too quickly. What about Norman Bates; as a real bleeding heart, I have a real soft spot for him. He can make me sandwiches and I will take care of his mother. On second thought, I might need a more masculine man; the kind of guy who takes care of business. Well, Candyman certainly fits that description, but that hook is going to get in the way on dates. Hmmm…I’ve always enjoyed Pinhead’s grace and ease with language and everything he says sounds strangely sexual, but that white face scares the bejeezus out of me. So, who is it that truly gets under my skin?
For me, I always experience real fear when the scenario could easily be reality. So, when the identity of the killer was revealed in Gillian Flynn’s novel Dark Places, I was impressed. The idea of this character got under my skin simply because he could easily be a real person. This fiction book could be a nonfiction book in a hot second. In preparation for writing this, I read the novel for the third time and it still hasn’t lost it’s impact when the killer is revealed. I cannot stress this enough; if you have any interest, whatsoever, in reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. STOP! PICK UP YOUR KINDLE, CLICK BUY, READ AND THEN COME BACK TO ME. I really cannot be any more clear than that. If you have not read the book, but continue to read this, don’t come back to me and tell me that I ruined it.
SPOILER ALERT – SPOILER ALERT- SPOILER ALERT- SPOILER ALERT- SPOILER ALERT
Alright, now we can get back to being sweet. Dark Places is Gillian Flynn’s second novel. Her first novel, Sharp Objects, came to me via Stephen King. He used to write a column for Entertainment Weekly and sometimes he would recommend new authors. I figured taking his advice was a good thing, so, I bought Sharp Objects and I was in love. Thankfully, Gillian Flynn has come into more notoriety with her last novel, Gone Girl. Flynn has an uncanny ability to write about characters that aren’t necessarily likable, but you still find yourself caring for them anyway. All of her characters are flawed somehow, some irreparably so, but you still want them to come out on top.
Dark Places is the story of Libby Day; survivor of a family massacre that left only her and her older brother Ben. Unfortunately, Ben is the one who killed their mother, and two sisters one cold January night. Or is he? Libby is a wounded soul who has little to no interest in life. As her sympathy money begins to run out, she becomes desperate and accepts an invitation to attend a Kill Club. Turns out, there is a group of people who have an intense interest in the Day case and adamantly believe that Ben is not the killer. In exchange for payment, Libby agrees to track down people attached to that fateful night and try to find the truth. This is made even more interesting by the fact that Libby is the one who’s testimony put Ben in prison and she believes him to be guilty. Or does she? There have always been a few things about that night that don’t add up, but she was only eight, she had just lost her entire family and she just wanted to do what the adults told her to.
Told in alternating narratives from several different characters, the timeline also flips back and forth between then and now. We learn that the Day family was always on the verge of losing everything. Patty Day, their mother, was barely able to keep all of her children fed everyday, much less run a successful family farm. All of the Day family members had their own way of dealing with their meager existence in life and just when Patty thought she couldn’t do anything else, someone offered her a possible solution.
Patty drives out to a secluded area late one night to meet up with a stranger who has the answer to all of her problems. A former farmer, this man understands the nature of the predicament that the Day’s have found themselves in. Calvin Diehl, otherwise known as the Angel of Debt, has been helping people cash in their life insurance since the 80’s. You provide him with a handwritten note swearing that you hired him, he takes a small fee and kills you in what always looks like an accident. Your family collects your life insurance and everything is right with the world. It really is such a practical idea. You’re in over your head and the last thing you want is for your family to pay, literally and figuratively, for your poor choices. You write a letter, you die in an accident and your family is saved. I can see how people would view this to be a completely reasonable solution. They probably even believe that they weren’t hurting anyone but themselves. Calvin Diehl believes himself to be something of a folk hero, he says that he was simply participating in assisted suicide. He was allowing people to die with dignity. Everything about this could so very easily be a true story. In fact, I’m sure that there are a few real life Calvin Diehls walking amongst us. The things that I have trouble wrapping my mind around is coming up with the idea and then following through with it. What kind of man decides that he will now commit his life to “assisted suicide”, feel no remorse and then play himself up like a kind of do-gooder? This is much different than Dr.Kevorkian assisted suicide, this is a man making a living off of killing otherwise able bodied and healthy people. He comes to them with the proposition and makes it look as thought he’s doing them a favor. Well, his hubris is what leads the entire Day family down a road of never ending misery. The entire novel tells the story of how the Day Family Massacre affected every single person. Anyone who was tied to the Day family was forever changed by the poor choice made by Calvin Diehl. For him to know what his actions caused, never try to fix it and just continue killing for decades is simply bone chilling. It bothers me because I “get it”. I can see how this career of his seems logical and justified. He believes he is doing the right thing. He’s just the guy in the Stetson hat that you walked past in the feed store last weekend. He can be anyone that you encounter in your daily life. He wasn’t born twisted, he didn’t have a traumatic childhood experience to blame, he simply decided that what he was doing was right. Being able to come to this conclusion is so much more terrifying to me than a man who kills because the dog told him to. Calvin Diehl has no excuse and no reason, he kills just because he can. That’s a terrifying villain.