Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl may have been the breakout hit of the summer, but those intrigued enough by Flynn’s twisty thriller to read her other work will find that as good as Gone Girl is, her two earlier novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, are even better. Flynn, who wrote about TV and movies for Entertainment Weekly before her fiction career took off, writes character-based literary novels disguised as page-turning action thrillers. The solutions to the mystery at the end of her books, though usually surprising, are nowhere as interesting as the human dilemmas of her central characters.
Flynn is especially good at creating damaged, dangerous women whose deeply imagined inner lives break your heart even as the characters create havoc in the lives of the people around them. For me, the best of Flynn’s books is her first, Sharp Objects, about a newspaper reporter recently released from a brief stay in a psych ward who is sent to cover a series of child-killings in her hometown. The crime plot clicks expertly along, but the true mystery is the book’s narrator, Camille Preaker, whose self-hatred is literally written on her body, the words — NASTY on her kneecap, WHORE on her ankle — carved into her skin with a razor blade. I wondered, idly, who could have committed the murders Camille is sent to report upon, but what kept me turning the pages was the thornier question of how this smart, fragile woman could find the toughness to keep herself from making the final cut.
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