a fake fan site, and it's fantastic. The book gives us the perfect set-up: there are bodies with Gretchen's signature, but no one can tell if she's killing again, manipulating people to kill for her, or if it's purely the work of her fans trying to emulate her. "Portland seemed divided into two groups of people these days--people who wanted to get as far away from Gretchen's crime scenes as possible, and people who wanted to rub up against her corpses" (p. 122).
Chelsea Cain infuses her characters with joy, humor and humanity. Yes, it's a book about a deranged, beautiful female serial killer. Yes, there is some gore so gruesome it is hard to read. Mostly, though, this book focuses on Susan, Archie and Henry as humans. They tell jokes. There's character development, real newspaper politics (Gretchen Lowell sells papers, but is she really responsible for these deaths?), and the city of Portland shines almost as a character itself.
I worried this series was in danger of fizzling out, but Evil at Heart is the best book yet. If you haven't read the first two, please read them first. If you didn't like the second book as much, read this one; I think it will change your mind. I'm sure there will be another book in this successful series, and I hope at some point for some sort of prequel. I'm utterly fascinated by Gretchen's mysterious upbringing. I'm sure Cain will give us the answers eventually, and they'll be wilder than I can even imagine.
On the grander level, I admire Chelsea Cain for writing a feminist novel about a torturous serial killer. Cain exposes the flaws of all of our society's views of gender with Gretchen. A beautiful woman doesn't seem threatening, yet she's killed more than 200 people. For once, a serial killer is brutalizing men more than young, pretty women. She's a master manipulator, but she's also brilliant and physically strong; her deranged mind is her most powerful weapon. She's neither hero nor anti-hero, but she is an indirect voice for feminism. Gretchen Lowell is a wonderful example of equality. Perhaps gender subversion isn't Cain's intention, but it's a wonderful by-product.
Rating: 4.25 stars (out of 5)
Publication date: September 2009
Source: Marcia from The Printed Page gave me her ARC