Chelsea Cain,
Gretchen Lowell #1: Heartsick
(Minotaur, 2007)

Serial-killer crime books aren't exactly my favorite -- often the atmosphere is done too cheerily, it's badly written or it's indistinguishable from the other 2,000 serial-killer books being released every day. However, Heartsick manages to be unique and, while it is unique and worth reading, it is definitely not without its faults.

Heartsick is about Archie Sheridan, a police officer who led a task force to catch The Beauty Killer, a beautiful but vile murderer named Gretchen Lowell. However, she catches him first; Gretchen traps Archie and tortures him horrendously for 10 days before calling the police, saving his life while turning herself in.

Two years later, Archie is a pill-popping isolated man who has been on forced sick since his torture. However, he is quickly pulled back into the fray with his old task force when a new serial killer, The After-School Killer, ravages Portland. At the same time, journalist Susan Ward is documenting Archie's life and his work for a book.

The thing that sets this novel apart is that, while it masquerades as a serial-killer crime novel, it is more of a drama and a character study, which makes it that much stronger. Chelsea Cain isn't an extraordinary writer, maybe above average, but where she really shines is how she writes realistic characters -- Archie and Susan in particular. Archie's pain translates well into writing, and you will definitely sympathize and empathize with his character.

I read somewhere that Cain got tips from Chuck Palahniuk, an author who has a trademark of being very detailed in his gory scenes, before writing this book. It definitely shows and, while I'm not someone who likes a book just for the gore, in this novel it is not done in vain. It helps you to you get in Archie's head.

The setting is done reasonably well, underscoring the rainy dark feeling of the American Northwest, and the descriptions of Portland are very vivid. The atmosphere maybe isn't as dark as it should be, but it did have a feeling of despair and hopelessness, something I believe serial-killer novels should have more often.

The weakest part of this novel, though, is the main story. Two or three times, I found myself just not caring about what was happening. The ending is a little weak, and not what I expected from a novel with an atmosphere as dark this.

This is the first book in a series, and I'm anxious to learn if the next novels are worth reading.

book review by
Vlady Kozubnyak

29 August 2015

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