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Heartsick / Chelsea Cain

thHeartsick.jpgSt. Martin’s Minotaur / September 2007
Reviewed by Martel Sardina

Is Hannibal Lector scary? He might have been once, but there’s a new psychopath in town. Chelsea Cain’s female counterpart, Gretchen Lowell, has put the thrill back into a sub-genre that many feared had gone stale.

In Heartsick, Detective Archie Sheridan is called back to active duty to catch a killer who is preying upon Portland’s teenage girls. Sheridan has the experience to do the job, having spent ten years tracking Gretchen Lowell, “The Beauty Killer,” but that experience was gained at a cost most would be unwilling to pay. Sheridan survived being kidnapped and tortured by Lowell but is now in a different kind of prison. He’s addicted to painkillers, lost his family, and can’t get Gretchen Lowell out of his head. He continues to visit Lowell in prison in the hope that she will lead him to the bodies of victims who have not yet been found.

Sheridan’s return to the force is a newsworthy item. Susan Ward, a young, idealistic reporter is assigned to profile Sheridan and cover the murder investigation. Thus begins a deadly game between Archie, Susan, and the new killer. Like Silence of the Lambs, Cain finds a way to make Gretchen Lowell relevant to the new case.

Cain’s characters are vibrant, exciting and easy to care about. Once the key players are introduced, Cain immerses us in their world, and never gives us the opportunity or the desire to leave them. Take for example, this exchange between Gretchen, Archie and Susan:

“She likes you,” Gretchen said teasingly to Archie.

Archie pulled a brass pillbox out of his pocket and set it on the table in front of him. “She’s a reporter,” he said, rotating the small box in a clockwise motion on the tabletop. “She’s friendly with her subjects so they tell her things. It’s her job.”

“Do you tell her things?”

“Yes,” he said, looking at the box.

“But not everything.”

He glanced up at Gretchen meaningfully. “Of course not.”

Gretchen seemed satisfied by this, and she settled her attention on Susan. “What are your questions?”

Susan was startled. “My questions?”

Gretchen gestured to the digital recorder. She wore the manacles like they were bracelets, lovely and expensive baubles to be admired and envied. “That’s why you’ve come here, right? With your little gadget and furrowed brow? To interview me? You can’t write a story about Archie Sheridan without talking to me. I made him who he is today. Without me, he wouldn’t have had a career.”

“I’d like to think I would have found some other megalomaniacal homicidal psychopath,” Archie said with a sigh.

Gretchen ignored him. “Go ahead,” she said to Susan. “Ask me anything.”

The prose is beautifully crafted. Cain makes every sentence, every word count. She reveals as little as possible along the way, leaving the reader hungry for more. Will Archie find the killer or will this investigation push him over the edge?

It was agonizing to have to stop reading this book. The ending is left open to the possibility of a sequel. With any luck, the wait for Cain's next roller coaster ride will be a short one.

Purchase Chelsea Cain's Heartsick.

Posted on Saturday, November 24, 2007 at 11:30AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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