Madison Vain
October 31, 2014 AT 05:40 PM EDT

Inevitably, you are aware of Gone Girl. The movie, the book, both, Ben Affleck, all of it. Hopefully you’re as swept up in it as I am. I read the book when it came out and was standing in line at the theater on the night the film premiered.

But Gillian Flynn’s foray into thrillers began in 2006 with her debut novel, Sharp Objects. As my Gone Girl high wore off, I turned here, hoping for something equally as cunning. And while it is cunning (and similarly set in a Missouri town), Objects is much, much darker. It’s also brutal, gross at times, and disturbing. Rather than a love-gone-wrong plot, this book dives into a serial killer mystery: Someone has been picking off little girls, killing them, then plucking out their teeth. All signs point to the murderer being a local.

Our protagonist, Camille, is a reporter who’s come down from Chicago to investigate the spree. Chosen because she was raised in the town of Wind Gap, Camille returns to her cold mother, dispassionate stepfather and cruel half-sister. Camille, understandably, has her own issues —her addiction to cutting has left her body riddled with scars.

It’s not an easy read. Flynn has tapped into a rich vein of smalltown unease. You’ll suspect everyone and trust no one. The book is also—and not necessarily in a bad way—obviously a precursor to Gone Girl, both in terms of plot construction and in terms of writing. Girl‘s twisty story and deft sentences were sharply defined; rather than falling simply on a good-to-bad spectrum, its characters were beautiful amalgamations of grey. It’s harder to see Sharp Objects’ cast as real people, or to find their redeeming qualities. Standing by anyone is a futile exercise.

Which isn’t to say the book is not wildly entertaining. It is. I read it sort of desperately, trying to peek in during any break in my day, and I plan on reading Dark Places next. It’s not easy making the dark welcoming, but Flynn’s stories are addictive in their own sordid way.

Who else has read the Flynn compendium? Which is your favorite?

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