Squee! I lurved this book! It is like the awesomest book evuh!And leave it at that.
Heartsick by Chelsea Cain has been getting The Big Promotional Push by St. Martin's and now that I've read it I totally see why. It's got a great hook, female serial killer Gretchen Lowell, and it's a projected trilogy. What's interesting here is that while St. Martin's has put on the full court press regarding the Gretchen Lowell character, she's not really the focus of this story. No, Gretchen is more like the puppet master. She's behind the scenes, with the main characters still dealing with the aftermath.
Archie Sheridan spent his entire police career working on the infamous Beauty Killer case. Then the Beauty Killer herself, Gretchen, kidnapped and tortured him for weeks. As her final act of manipulation, she let him live - barely. He's been on disability for the last couple of years, and is now popping Vicodin like breath mints. He's a wreck - but he somehow manages to get his old job back. This time the Beauty Killer Task Force is looking for a killer targeting pretty, dark-haired teenage girls.
After years of letting Gretchen manipulate him, Archie is looking to turn the tables - so he asks Portland newspaper writer, Susan Ward, to follow him around and write a series of stories. The paper obviously jumps on this offer, but little do they know that Archie has manipulated this turn of events to get what he wants - closure.
This sounds like a fairly basic serial killer/suspense novel - but it's really not. The suspense here is almost incidental. This is more like a character study, as readers watch Archie further descend into his pain and addiction, watch Susan follow leads and make disastrous romantic decisions, watch Gretchen sing her siren song that's always calling Archie "home," and watch Archie's wife, Debbie, deal with the fact that her ex-husband ultimately chose a psychopath over her. It makes for messy entanglements.
Swirling around all this is this new threat - the After School Strangler. A man who kidnaps girls, rapes and murders them. Obviously this is not a sunshine happy book. I wouldn't say the author paints the details terribly gory - but sometimes just planting the suggestion is enough. If there was even a doubt that Gretchen Lowell was one twisted little monkey, it's pretty much wiped from my mind when I hear about what she once did with a crochet hook. Seriously, the girl has major issues.
I started out life as a mystery reader, and to this day nothing gets my blood flowing quite like a page-turning suspense yarn. If it weren't for some of the more gory details, I think Heartsick has massive crossover appeal. The characters here are really fantastic, and while the suspense itself is well done, it's these people that made me come back for more. They were the reason why I kept picking up the book and reading. And I'm suddenly filled with a wonderful sense of euphoria to know that two more books are in the works. Let's hope Cain brings some of these original cast members back for those future installments.
Final Grade = A. Honestly, I'm not doing this book justice. Official laydown date is September 4, and both of my sisters really need to get on the library waiting list for this one. Like now you guys.