The sole survivor of a family massacre is pushed into revisiting a past she’d much rather leave alone, in Flynn’s scorching follow-up to Sharp Objects (2006).
On a January night in 1985, Michelle Day, ten, was strangled, her nine-year-old sister, Debby, killed with an ax, and their mother, Patty, stabbed, hacked and shot to death in the family farmhouse. Weeks after jumping out a window and running off in the Kansas snow, Libby Day, seven, testified that her brother Ben, 15, had killed the family, and he was sent to prison for life amid accusations of sex and Satanism. End of story—except that now that the fund well-wishers raised for Libby has run dry, she has to raise some cash pronto, and her family history turns once more into an ATM. A letter from Lyle Wirth promises her a quick $500 to attend the annual convention of the Kill Club, whose members gather to trade theories about unsolved crimes. When self-loathing Libby (“Draw a picture of my soul, it’d be a scribble with fangs”) realizes that none of the club members believes her story, she reluctantly agrees to earn some more cash by digging up the leading players: Ben, whose letters she’s never opened; their long-departed father Runner, who’s as greedy and unscrupulous as Libby; Krissi Cates, the little girl who’d spent the day before the murders accusing Ben of molesting her; and Ben’s rich, sleazy girlfriend Diondra Wertzner. Flynn intercuts Libby’s venomous detective work with flashbacks to the fatal day 24 years ago so expertly that as they both hurtle toward unspeakable revelations, you won’t know which one you’re more impatient to finish. Only the climax, which is incredible in both good ways and bad, is a letdown.
For most of the wild story’s running time, however, every sentence crackles with enough baleful energy to fuel a whole town through the coldest Kansas winter.