Camille Preaker works as a journalist at a small newspaper. She is not particularly satisfied with the job, which includes writing stories about human neglect and crimes such as murder. Camille gets along somewhat well with her boss Curry, who supported her during a recent hospitalization due to self-harm. Camille has carved many words onto her body—having previously hallucinated them on her skin. Curry gives her a reporting assignment to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, where one girl has been murdered and a second is missing.
Once in Wind Gap, Camille manages to gain some information about the crimes from the townspeople, including the family of Ann Nash, the murdered girl. The local police are not particularly forthcoming about the murder, but the town sheriff divulges to Camille off the record that he believes that the murderer is a Wind Gap native, not a stranger. Soon the body of the missing girl, Natalie Keene, is discovered in an alley in town. Both she and Ann were strangled, and had all of their teeth removed. Camille publishes a story cobbled together from the information she has received, only for Curry to ask her to remain in Wind Gap for further coverage of the story.
While there, Camille reconnects with her estranged mother Adora and half-sister Amma. Camille never had a good relationship with her mother, as Adora always preferred Camille’s younger sister Marian, who died due to an unspecified illness when Camille was young. Amma, who was born after Marian’s death, has grown into a spoiled preteen who behaves like a young child in front of her mother to hide her wild personality, drug and alcohol use, and sex life. Camille also connects on a romantic level with a Kansas City detective, Richard Willis, sent to investigate the potential of a serial killer.
As Camille continues to investigate, she begins a sexual relationship with Richard. During each encounter with him, Camille refuses to remove her clothes out of fear that he will reject her after he sees all of her scars. Camille and Amma begin to grow closer. After attending a party with her sister where the two of them get drunk and take drugs, Camille wakes to find her mother Adora caring for her. She is given pills that make her sick. Camille is horrified to discover that Adora does this to Amma frequently, and realizes that her sister Marian’s illness was not hers, but Adora’s—Münchausen syndrome by proxy. After some investigation, Camille finds a letter written by a nurse caring for Marian that shows that the nurse had these same suspicions. Camille also discovers that Richard believed Adora to be responsible for the murders of Ann and Natalie. She returns to her mother’s home, where Adora poisons Camille and tries to care for Camille’s wounds while bathing her.
Camille passes out, but awakens to find Richard and the police arresting her mother. He is horrified to see the extent of her scars. This ends their relationship, despite his earlier claims of genuinely falling for her. Adora is charged with the murders of Marian and the two girls, and Amma is sent to Chicago to live with Camille. Amma initially seems to be healing from the abuse she received from Adora, but soon after she begins attending a girls’ school in Chicago, a classmate is discovered murdered, having had six of her teeth pulled. It is then revealed that while Adora did kill Marian, Amma was ultimately responsible for the recent murders and that she did it in part because she was jealous of the attention Adora was giving them. Distraught, Camille cuts herself again but is stopped by Curry and his wife, who take her in as their own daughter. The story ends with Camille learning to be cared for as a child and a daughter for the first time.
From Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
Just when you think you have it all figured out, wham! You don’t. I didn’t see it coming. Amazing writing keeps you hooked from page 1. Gillian Flynn knows her stuff, I am a big fan and this will not disappoint. I loved Gone Girl and was so happy when they made it a movie. I am very excited to see the adaptation of Sharp Objects on HBO. I could not put this book down. It’s one of those books where you have to force yourself to stop reading so you don’t read it in 24 hours. I tried to take my time but only lasted 4 days. If you are a fan of thrillers with great plot twists, you will not be disappointed.
I really liked this book. I steered clear of reviews before reading it to avoid any spoiler info. Having read the book, I’ve now read several reader reviews and noted how many found the dark subject matter objectionable. Without spoiling anything, I’ll share a few thoughts for those considering this book . . .
Having already read DARK PLACES, I had a sense of what was in store here. Flynn’s narrator characters, in all three of her books, are deeply flawed and in some cases seriously damaged folks. They share a lot of intimate (sometimes disturbing) detail with the reader that they keep inside / private from the other characters and other people in their lives. So there are heavy backstory themes in play here, and with each of her books featuring a feminine central character, there’s a current of sexuality that runs through these stories. Sometimes the character makes the difficult but right choice, and sometimes she makes the easier choice and inherits the consequence. I find all that stuff gripping, but many other reader reviews have a problem with it.
This book doesn’t have the big time plot swings of GONE GIRL, it’s basically a dark character study of the narrator and the perspective she shares on the other characters. It feels like going along for a bender with someone you think you know well, and learning there’s a lot more to her story that you didn’t know.