For some reason, murder mysteries and crime dramas have never appealed to me much as they do to some people. They can be very enjoyable if done right (Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a prime example of that), but for the most part, I find them quite predictable and underwhelming. So, when I heard that Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl spent a long time on the New York Times Best-Sellers List this past year, I was a bit skeptical, but decided to give it a try.
Gone Girl is divided into three parts that constantly plays with your mind and takes its time revealing what really happened. Part One opens with Nick and Amy Dunne, two former New York City journalists who have settled in Nick’s hometown in Missouri after they both lost their jobs. They seem like the perfect couple since they are complete opposites of each other, with Nick being an easy-going individual from a broken working-class family, and Amy being a giddy free-spirit from a rich, sheltered family. They’re such an adorable couple that every year on their wedding anniversary, Amy sets up a scavenger hunt for Nick as her gift presentation.
On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, however, Nick comes home from working at the bar he and his sister now own, only to find that Amy is missing. By switching between Nick’s first-person narrative and Amy’s past diary entries, the book leads you to believe that Nick had something to do with her disappearance and makes you feel sorry for Amy. Nick lies to the police, hardly shows any concern over his disappeared wife, and it’s revealed that he’s having an affair with a college student. It’s even suggested that Nick married her because of her rich parents, who wrote a best-selling book inspired by Amy appropriately named Amazing Amy. Through Amy’s diary entries, you learn that she and Nick had gone through several rough, even abusive, patches throughout their marriage and that she’s pregnant. You spend most of Part One waiting for Nick to admit that he murdered her or for some piece of evidence to come up so that authorities can arrest him.
However, the start of Part Two completely turns the tables. Amy’s diary entries suddenly go from being that of a sweet, battered wife to that of a conniving and vengeful monster who has been framing Nick all along. The first part of her diary was one big embellished lie and her disappearance was just her way of getting revenge on Nick because he gave up on being a good husband. At this time, Nick also realizes that Amy is still alive and framing him, and he needs to clear his name before it’s too late. However, is there a way to gain the trust of the public when they’re already convinced that you murdered your wife?
What makes Gone Girl such a fascinating piece of writing is Flynn’s sense of story-telling, how she builds up to shocking reveals and her well-developed characters. She constantly keeps the reader guessing and never lets up on twists, even in the last few chapters of the book. It’s a constant cat-and-mouse chase where no matter what Nick does, Amy is always two steps ahead of him. Nick must use everything that usually works against him to gain the sympathy of the public and outsmart Amy. Amy’s a character you love to hate because she’s such a conniving, brilliant and deranged witch hidden beneath such a sweet facade. While you may be impressed by Amy’s intelligence and the extreme lengths she goes to get her revenge, you also pity Nick because he’s married to this woman. Also, instead of focusing just on forensics, which can weigh down a crime drama, Flynn also goes behind the scenes of the media and the psychological aspects of the characters. She explores why Amy is the way she is and Nick’s attempts to improve his image in the media, which are some of the best aspects of the novel. It’s something that I wish more crime writers explored more often.
Overall, Gone Girl is an example of how a crime novel should be done. It has very well thought-out characters, great pacing, intriguing and admittedly disturbing psychological analysis, constant twists, and subtle hints of humor. I highly recommend checking it out, whether you’re a fan of crime novels or not.