Pat Benatar once famously sang about love being a battlefield, but it can scarcely ever have been such a twisted, dangerous and bloody war zone as depicted in this wonderfully crafted but excruciating thriller.
Gillian Flynn has good form for delving into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, her two previous novels winning a raft of awards and gaining fans including Val McDermid and Kate Atkinson.
Gone Girl is her best novel yet and definitely a contender for thriller of the year. It's based on a relatively familiar premise, that of the missing spouse, but Flynn imbues the story with such well-observed psychological depth as to make it seem utterly fresh on the page.
The action takes place in Carthage, Missouri, an anonymous slice of smalltown America suffering in the recession. Nick and Amy Dunne have moved there recently from New York to care for Nick's ailing mother. It's an unspoken defeat for them both, being back – especially for Amy who has been raised a trust-funded Manhattan socialite, and is now slumming it with the other Carthage wives. Nick runs a bar with his twin sister Go (short for Margo), financed by the last of Amy's trust fund money.
The book opens with Amy missing, the narrative switching between Nick, who is dealing with the aftermath, and diary entries from Amy leading up to the day of her disappearance.
As the plot progresses, Amy's disappearance becomes more and more suspicious, and Nick inevitably becomes the focus for the local police's attention, while he tries to balance public opinion and stay on good terms with Amy's parents, a husband-and-wife team of children's authors now fallen on hard times.
The first half of Gone Girl includes some of the most tense prose you will ever get to read. Flynn is masterly at ramping up the drama to painful, almost unreadable levels, with each minor revelation about the police investigation or Amy's backstory pitched perfectly to maximise a response from the reader.
Around halfway through, we find out what has really happened to Amy, or we think we do, as the veracity of some of the earlier narration is thrown into doubt. Some of the tension of the story is inevitably lost, but Flynn cleverly replaces it with a slow-drip revelation of the real mindsets and motivations of her key characters. I can't say any more about the plot without giving away too much – anathema to us thriller writers – but it is safe to say you will be left wondering how on earth the story is going to end, right up to the book's final climactic scenes.
Flynn is, without doubt, at the front of the pack of American thriller writers. The characterisation, plot, dialogue, description and social commentary are all razor sharp, snappy and precise without being too stylistically so. This story of a love gone brutally wrong is a painful but utterly compulsive read.