If Gillian Flynn's critically acclaimed 2007 debut novel, Sharp Objects, marked her out as an extraordinary new talent in the thriller world, her follow-up act, Dark Places, confirms her as one of the very brightest stars in the genre firmament.
The brightest, but also, perhaps, the darkest. About halfway through Dark Places I was intrigued to read an interview with Flynn from Bookslut in which the author told Mike Carlson that there would be no sequel to Sharp Objects, because lead character Camille Preaker was just too dark: "I just don't understand how people write series with the same character. You must have to want to spend time with them. Camille's nice, but she's way too dark to spend that much time with."
So instead Flynn turns her attention to a character who is even darker: Libby Day, disturbed survivor of the massacre of her family, by her adored older brother Ben, who was convicted largely on the basis of her testimony.
Libby leads a somewhat aimless life, funded by the contributions of well-wishers who sent donations after her tragic story was publicised. But now into adulthood, two decades after the murders, the fund is running dry and Libby must contemplate how to support herself in the future, without any skills or experience.
It is therefore perhaps inevitable that the event that defined her life comes to her aid in the form of the "Kill Club" a loose collective of groupies interested in exploring conspiracy theories around various events. Libby Day is a major figure for Kill Club members interested in the death of her family members and for a fee is invited to speak to the group.
When she gets there she quickly realises that she is regarded with notoriety rather than celebrity: her testimony framed her brother, and not a single member of the club believes he is guilty. Reluctantly at first, Libby is dragged into the fight to clear Ben's name.
Dark Places is every bit as disturbing as Sharp Objects, although in a different way. The Dark Places of the title could be any one of a number of locations: the conspiracy theorist sub-culture of the Kill Club; the psychological recesses that Libby disappears into to cope with her demons; or the crushing poverty of the pre-massacre day family and the tortures suffered by matriarch Patty trying to keep her children above the bread line.
Of all the themes in Dark Places, it is this poverty and hopelessness that is the most haunting. At times reading about it was almost physically painful. As a parent my heart actually ached for Patty in her desperation, misery and - perhaps worst of all - the smallest measure of hope she clings onto.
This is what Flynn is really really good at: putting the reader inside the story, having them live every twist in turn. I did it with Camille Preaker, and now with Libby and Patty Day.
She carries this narrative through a twin storyline: Libby's investigation into the Ben's possible innocence and the dramatic and tragic story of the fateful day of the massacre. The latter, in particular, is compelling, emotional reading.
This is a second triumph for Gillian Flynn. Let's hope we don't have to wait another two years for the third.