The first novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects is a mystery thriller following journalist Camille Preaker as she returns to her home town to investigate a the killings of two pre-teen girls.
Camille Preaker, like many of Flynn’s female protagonists, is damaged and recovering from some form of psychological trauma. In this instance, Preaker was 13 when her sister died, and in coping with her grief, she began carving words into her flesh. As an adult, the majority of Preaker’s body is now covered in scars and she still resists the temptation to carve words into her skin during times of stress or trauma. Despite her troubles and alcohol addition, Preaker is a not unlikable and easy to sympathize with character, to which Flynn was able to inject genuine levels of nuance. However, at times, her decision making is severely questionable.
Ten years after her sister’s death, Preaker is a now a journalist working for a second-rate newspaper. When two girls are murdered in her home town, their teeth removed and bodies dumped in an alley, Preaker is sent on assignment to investigate. In doing so she is reunited with her cold and callous mother and a young half sister whom she barely knows. As Preaker seeks to uncover the truth of the murders, she also begins to uncover the dark secrets of the small town she grew up in. Again, many of these characters are multi-dimensional and wonderfully fleshed out.
I’m a sucker for small town mystery and drama. Throw in some shocking events, damaged characters and unsettling relationships and I’m hooked. So it’s safe to say I enjoyed Sharp Objects much more than Dark Places. While not as relentlessly morbid as Dark Places, Sharp Objects sets out to shock and unsettle the reader in a more balanced manner. That’s not to say Sharp Objects is a walk in the park to read – certain scenes and events have the effect of making the reader feel physically ill, but it’s overall tone is more subtle than Flynn’s later efforts. However, while Flynn undoubtedly has knack for making you feel uneasy, at times it feels like she is obviously going out of her way to shock the reader as much as possible – at the expense of story. Descriptions of pre-teen sex and drug taking in particular felt unnecessarily inserted for the sole purpose of ‘shock factor’.
Nevertheless the central mystery is a simple, but juicy one. And with the revolving cast of small town characters, each with their own secrets to keep, the spotlight is kept in motion and the intrigue intact – at least until the third act. Unfortunately by the novel’s conclusion, the heavy handed focus on certain characters makes the ending painfully obvious, and for this I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
Despite this, Sharp Places is still undeniably a entertaining read. Dark, but not willing to wallow in muck as much as Dark Places. Provided you are not put-off by some scenes written purely for shock-factor, and a perhaps somewhat foreseeable end, Sharp Objects is a decent mystery and far from dull.