WARNING: This review may contain some spoilers
Gillian Flynn’s tale of murder, deception and investigative journalism instantly draws you in. the prose is rich in imagery that reveals a narrator with an unusually perceptive world view. Yet, despite her keen observations, Camille has struggled to make her big break as a reporter in Chicago.
Since her younger sister died at the age of ten, Camille has been at odds with her mother, estranged from her family and the town she grew up in. But when one girl is murdered and another goes missing under a year apart, her boss sends her home to Wind Gap to find out how the two cases are related. This could be the break she’s been waiting for, or it could break her.
Wind Gap has the claustrophobic feel of a small town. Gossip and competition fuel disputes and bad feeling, but despite the toxic rivalry no one seems to leave. Girls grow up, marry a boy from their high school, have children, and the cycle begins again. It’s no wonder Camille escaped when she could. The stagnancy of the town has turned poisonous, and its residents grow suspicious of each other as it starts to sink in that the murderer might be local.
The town’s insular nature has created women who are carbon copies of each other. There are those within the town who haven’t been pulled into this superficial way of living, Gina, Natalie’s mother, and to some extent Jackie, but the reader is only given a glimpse of these potentially intriguing characters. The two other people that could have provided relief from the clone-like women were either dead or missing.
Flynn excels at creating dark and dysfunctional characters but the town feels unbelievably overrun with them. Camille, who had initially seemed like an intriguing protagonist, lost her three-dimensionality towards the middle of the novel. The murder investigation was a backdrop to her family dynamic. Her mother dislikes her, her step-father is indifferent to her and her younger half-sister enjoys inflicting pain on others. While their interactions were compelling, it limited the potential suspects, because the focus was on people Camille interacted with. From the start, it felt like there were only two characters that could be capable of the crimes committed. In the end, it wasn’t much of a surprise.
The biggest issue was the characters themselves. Curry, Camille’s boss and father figure, pushes her to return home, knowing of her emotional and mental frailty. He acts concerned for her yet doesn’t help. Camille, who is understandably traumatised and in denial about her past, says and does things that you feel should be excused by what’s happened to her, but at times can be a little hard to swallow. She engages in an affair with the Seattle detective, Richard, brought in to investigate, and although the relationship is problematic from the start, she seems to want it to fail, and when it inevitably does, puts the blame firmly on him when her own behaviour was partly responsible. Having a difficult protagonist the reader struggles to like isn’t a bad thing, in fact it can be refreshing but it felt like we missed out on a murder investigation that had the potential to be more.