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Sweetheart / Chelsea Cain

St. Martin’s Minotaur / September 2008
Reviewed by: Martel Sardina

Chelsea Cain’s Archie Sheridan series can be summed up with one thought: The Silence of the Lambs with a female Hannibal Lector. In her debut novel, Heartsick, Cain used this gender reversal to pump new life into a sub-genre that had gone stale. And while her follow-up, Sweetheart, is a well-written, fast-paced thrill ride, there is something lacking in Cain’s execution that may leave readers to wonder where Cain can go from here. Misgivings about future installments aside, Cain still delivers on the promise of Heartsick by providing fans a great read.

After bringing Gretchen Lowell (aka the Beauty Killer) to justice for her crimes, Detective Archie Sheridan can’t seem to rest knowing that there are still unidentified victims out there with families waiting for closure. Gretchen continues to manipulate him from her jail cell, avoiding a death sentence by agreeing to reveal the locations of her other victims, albeit with a catch — she will only talk to Archie. For Archie, having to maintain contact with Gretchen – despite being her only surviving victim – has taken its toll on him. Archie is trying to repair his relationship with his ex-wife and children and realizes the only way to do that is to give up his weekly visitations with Gretchen. And even though he makes it two months without a visit, he feels like he’s just going through the motions. Somehow, despite everything, his business with Gretchen is more important. Archie soon wonders if he made the wrong choice.

Archie is called to Portland’s Forest Park after the body of a young woman is discovered. The last time a body was found in this area, it turned out to be the start of the Beauty Killer Case. The two cases can’t possibly be related since Gretchen Lowell is tucked safely behind bars, so Archie turns to his friend Susan Ward – a newspaper reporter and another Heartsick leftover – for help in determining the dead woman’s identity. Once they learn the identity of their Jane Doe, Archie and Susan realize they are in the midst of an even bigger story with far-reaching political ramifications. Distractions ensue for Archie, however, once he learns that Gretchen Lowell has escaped from prison.

It’s no surprise to the reader that Gretchen’s escape secretly comes as a relief to Archie, who now has valid reason to put an end to his ex-wife’s moratorium on the serial killing beauty. Archie knows that he is the only one capable of catching her — and, this time, he is willing to resume the pursuit no matter what the personal cost.

The problem with series mysteries is that with each book, the author’s challenge is to offer the reader something new. Sweetheart offers some new insights into the various characters, revealing hidden motivations. But this time around, the story line – however tightly plotted and fast-paced a read – feels a bit too formulaic, leaving this reader to think that she might have enjoyed it more had she not already read Heartsick.

Open-ended elements in Sweetheart may be clues as to what to expect from Cain’s next offering in the Archie Sheridan series. Here’s hoping those clues are just red herrings.

Purchase Chelsea Cain’s Sweetheart.

Posted on Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 01:03PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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