Dark Places is the book she wrote before Gone Girl. Having read and loved Gone Girl, I was a bit nervous about going backwards in time--what if earlier books weren't nearly as good? Fortunately for me, I found Dark Places to be awfully close to Gone Girl.
The premise is this: Libby Day was only 7 when her mother and two older sisters were brutally murdered and her brother put in prison for the deed. As you might expect, this had a negative effect on Libby's life going forward. She's pretty much done nothing but live off a fund people donated to right after the tragedy. But 25 years later, the money's running out. When Libby is contacted by a member of the Kill Club--a group of people who obsess over notorious murders--and offered money to talk to them, she has little choice but to say yes. They may be a revolting group of people to her, especially since it was her testimony that put her brother behind bars, and the Kill Club group firmly believes he was wrongly imprisoned.
Still, they continue to offer money if she'll follow up on some of the ideas they have for who might be the actual culprit. So, unwillingly, Libby goes along for the ride.
The book is told in alternating chapters from Libby's point of view and from third person chapters detailing what exactly happened the last day before the murders, so that Libby's investigation slowly merges with the actual murders. It's a gripping approach that Flynn pulls off in the most tension-generating way possible.
I had a few problems with some of the plot points, but you know what? Overall I didn't care. Flynn sails through this story, full of darkness and unlikable people, with great confidence, and I was sold.
Besides that, Flynn is a master of using place in her writing:
"Magda's neighborhood was as cheap as mine, but nicer. Every house had been built shabby, but the owners still found enough pride to slap on a coat of paint now and then, hang a flag, plant some flowers. The houses reminded me of hopeful homely girls on a Friday night, hopping bars in spangly tops, packs of them were you assumed at least one might be pretty, but none were, and never would be. And here was Magda's house, the ugliest girl with the most accessories, frantically piled on. The front yard was spiked with lawn ornaments: gnomes bouncing on wire legs, flamingos on springs, and ducks with plastic wings that circled when the wind blew. A forgotten cardboard Christmas reindeer sat soggy in the front garden, which was mostly mud, baby-fuzz patches of grass poking through intermittently. I turned off the car, and we both stared into the yard, with its jittering denizens."
I guess there's nothing for it but to read Flynn's first book, Sharp Objects, and then have to wait--please, not too long!--for her next book.