Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HeartSick



Heartsick on Amazon
Chelsea Cain
2007

A friend recently sent me two novels with female serial killers. I'm not sure what it means that she knew I would enjoy books about female serial killers but I am grateful that she brought both to my attention.

Chelsea Cain is a columnist for The Oregonian and the author of a parody of Nancy Drew, Confessions of a Teen Sleuth. She says on her website that the Green River Killer and its task force of police officers many of whom spent their career tracking down the killer was the inspiration for Heartsick.

Archie Sheridan lead the task force that, for ten years, tried to find the serial killer Gretchen Lowell. In the end, Gretchen captured Archie and tortured him for ten days. With Archie at the point of death Gretchen inexplicably saves his life and allows herself to be arrested. She saves herself from the death penalty by offering to reveal the locations of her victims but only to Archie. Archie's imprisonment and torture is spread out throughout the book, a technique I found effective. For one, it pulls you along. You want to find out what happened to Archie. Cain does a good job of describing the disintegration of his will. This technique also provides a counterpoint the the investigation in which Archie finds himself involved.

After two years on sick leave, Archie is brought back on active duty to head the task force seeking a serial killer who targets teen-aged girls. The higher-ups have added a complication to Archie's investigation. They tell him that a female reporter, Susan Ward, will be allowed to profile Archie and the investigation. They hope this will head off the negative press they got during the Gretchen Lowell investigation.

Readers will be reminded of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Like Hannibal Lecter, Gretchen is a brilliant manipulator who appears in flashback and in prison. Will Graham who was nearly killed by Lector is brought out of retirement to track a serial killer. Archie Sheridan is brought out of sick leave to head a task force to find a serial killer. I don't want to give the impression that Heartsick is derivative. It isn't. Gretchen is seriously scary in her own right and Cain deftly builds the suspense. Her plot twists and weaving of Archie's and Susan's back stories with the current investigation make this a really great read.

Cain is working on a sequel that continues the story of Archie and Gretchen and I signed up for the newsletter to make sure I don't miss it. If you like this form of thriller, don't miss it.

OK, I'm going to include spoilers here. If you don't want to know some of the interesting twists, stop reading.

I mean it.

Turn back now.

Last chance.

I really liked the way Cain wrote the scenes where Gretchen was holding Archie prisoner and torturing him. The progression from resistance to acceptance was very well done. We see Archie gradually becoming a participant in his own torture and developing a weird sort of dependence on and even love of Gretchen. We also find that Gretchen had male accomplices, one of whom she murders in front of Archie. As I said earlier, Gretchen is really, really scary and well formed as a character.

In a plot complication that I didn't see coming that the current serial killer was one of Gretchen's followers and she has been manipulating events from the beginning. Her saving of Archie, not so inexplicable. She was planning to use him later. it looks like Gretchen is able to activate her male accomplices on their own killing sprees and she thinks that Archie has potential in that area. As for Susan Ward, she is a lot closer to the story than she knows.

8 comments:

cynthia said...

so it didn't bother you that the information about vicodin was wrong?

Mack said...

Cynthia,
Thanks for commenting. I'm always astounded when someone finds one of these posts.

I confess it's been over a year since I read Heartsick so my memory is a bit vague on the exact vidocin issues in Heartsick. Are you referring to the amount of vidocin that Archie takes in a day? Yea, that bothered me but I let it go. On the other hand, it bothered me enough with the tv show House that it was a major reason I stopped watching so I can't claim any consistency.

Cain addresses the effects of long-term abuse of vidocin in Sweetheart and how Archie's liver is severely damaged.

Mack said...

But it would have been a legitimate criticism so it should have been mentioned.

cynthia said...

The amount bothered me but what bothered me more was that vicodin was said to be codeine. I wrote to the publishing site and the response was- well it was not a mistake by the author- and the truth will be revealed when Archie - recovers from his addiction.- I am waiting to read the next one from the library and I am glad I didn't buy Heartsick either. I was hoping for something more like Kathy Reich's early books but then she is a trained scientist. Thanks for responding!

cynthia said...

The amount bothered me but what bothered me more was that Vicodin was said to be codeine. I wrote to the publishing site and the response was- well it was not a mistake by the author- and the truth will be revealed when Archie - recovers from his addiction.- I am waiting to read the next one from the library and I am glad I didn't buy Heartsick either. I was hoping for something more like Kathy Reich's early books but then she is a trained scientist. Thanks for responding!

cynthia said...

The amount bothered me but what bothered me most was that Vicodin was described as codeine. When I wrote to the publisher- the response was - sorry but the truth will be revealed when Archie " recovers from his addiction in a future installment". I am waiting to get the next one from the library- glad I did not buy the first. I was hoping for something more like Kathy Reich's first books,- but then she has medical training!. Thanks for responding.

cynthia said...

I see you have read the next one. My probelm with the Vicodin was that it was represented as being Codeine. The Publisher responded to my email that the truth would be revealed in a" a later installment when Archie recovers from his addiction"- thanks for responding!

cynthia said...

Sorry for the multiple posts- this is new to me