NY: Crown, 2009.
First off, Flynn’s second novel is a very strange book, filled with odd characters in bizarre situations. But that’s okay. She proved in Sharp Objects that she does “strange” very effectively. Libby Day is thirty-one and still suffering the effects of being the only survivor of the murder of her family when she was seven. Her mother and her two older sisters were slaughtered before her ears (in a truly horrific scene) and now her brother, Ben, who was fifteen at the time, is in prison for life. The undersized Libby has spent her whole life in the dark places. She’s violently aggressive, pathologically lazy, paranoid, a liar, and a klepto. But still, she’s not a bad person.
Now the trust fund, established at the time by donations from a sympathetic public, is about to run out and she has to get hold of some money quick. That’s where the Kill Club comes in. Its members are fans of — or, more often, obsessed with — murders that are either unsolved or in which they believe there has been a miscarriage of justice. And there are more than a few, mostly women, who believe Ben is innocent — as he always said he was, and despite Libby’s own obviously coerced confession. The club will pay Libby to go and interview people involved with the case, which is too good a deal to pass up in her time of need. So Libby begins tracking down people who were involved whom she either hoped never to see again (like her deranged deadbeat father) or whose existence she never suspected (like Ben’s girlfriend). Naturally, there’s far, far more to the murder in that lonely Kansas farmhouse than Libby could have imagined, and Flynn does an excellent job of bringing it all out morsel by morsel in alternating chapters — Libby in the here-and-now, Ben and their mother in January 1985. The characterization is first-rate and the pace gradually picks up until the last hundred or so pages come at you at a dead gallop. In fact, I stayed up into the small hours to find out what happened, realizing there was no way I was going to be able to sleep without knowing. I can’t, in fairness to the prospective reader, say too much about the resolution of the complexly interlocking plots, except to note that the author comes perilously close to a deus ex machina ending. It’s a heck of a coincidence. But, as Libby notes, that’s the Day luck. Anyway, I’ll forgive a lot in exchange for Flynn’s adroit and athletic use of the English language.