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Evil At Heart / Chelsea Cain

Minotaur Books / September 2009
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina

Heartsick, Chelsea Cain’s first novel about a female serial killer named Gretchen Lowell, blew this reviewer away. My reaction to Sweetheart, its sequel, was mixed. On one hand, Cain had matured as writer. The story was tight. But with the exception of one key piece of information about Detective Archie Sheridan’s relationship with Lowell, I didn’t feel like Cain had covered much in the way of new ground. In Evil at Heart – the third book in the series – Cain does cover new ground, taking the series in an unexpected direction. And had I not read Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places earlier this year, I might have been more impressed. The two stories share a common element – the killer’s fan club.

In Dark Places, Flynn uses the fan club to build tension and suspense into her story. Cain’s use of this element shifts the story into something out of a slasher film. And while those who enjoy slasher films may appreciate this aspect of Evil at Heart’s plot, readers looking for the thrill of escalating suspense may enjoy Flynn’s take on the killer’s fan club more.

Evil at Heart opens with Archie sequestering himself in the safe confines of a mental hospital. He and Gretchen have called a truce of sorts. Archie won’t kill himself so long as Gretchen doesn’t kill anyone else. However, when a body turns up bearing Gretchen’s signature – an etched heart – it appears that Gretchen isn’t keeping her part of the bargain. As much as Archie would like to forget Gretchen, he can’t. The Beauty Killer has become a cult hero. From t-shirts to crime scene bus tours, the public just can’t seem to get enough of her. This may have been an attempt on Cain’s part to call society’s fascination with murderers into question, but any judgments made on that issue where nullified by Cain’s choice to make the violence in this book more graphic and visceral than its predecessors.

Recurring characters, like reporter Susan Ward and Archie’s partner, Henry Sobol, are also back to help him this time around, although Cain doesn’t provide much new insight into either character. They seemingly exist to both help and hinder Archie in his pursuit of Gretchen. And as much as I like all of Cain’s characters, even I am having a hard time believing that these three “good” guys would continue to withhold critical information from one another, especially where Gretchen Lowell is concerned. At times, their actions seem forced, contrivances designed solely to help Cain get from point A to point B.

Cain has again crafted an entertaining page turner. New readers may enjoy this book as a stand alone more than those who have read the first two. Cain has left the possibility for another installment open. As a fan of her writing, I would like to see her abandon Archie and Gretchen for a while and prove that she is more than a one trick pony.

Purchase Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain.

Posted on Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 10:48AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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