Friday, March 27, 2009

book reviews: heart sick and sweetheart by chelsea cain

I read Heart Sick on the recommendation of Stephen King, with whom I don't always agree. He had these two novels as one slot in his Top 10 of 2008. I'm also intrigued by female serial killers, especially given their statistical rareness.

Heart Sick introduces readers to brilliant and beautiful serial killer Gretchen Lowell. Gretchen managed to kill 200 people, mostly in Portland, itself almost a character in these books. She posed as a psychologist helping the task force, and she managed to kidnap and torture Det. Archie Sheridan, the task force leader. Mysteriously, Gretchen held Archie for ten days but did not kill him. In fact, she called 911 to turn herself in. Archie is physically, emotionally and psychologically scarred from the encounter; Gretchen is in prison. Quirky reporter Susan is doing a profile piece on Archie for the Portland newspaper.

Archie and Susan both offer first-person narratives. These damaged characters are emotionally compelling, and although there are many mysteries going on simultaneously, they do not clutter the narrative. I really liked Heart Sick, but I'm glad I had heard good things about it. I wanted to stop reading during the first chapter; apparently I don't handle graphic depictions of torture well. I confess to skimming the more gruesome parts (perhaps Beat the Reaper was still fresh in my mind?) I'm glad I stuck with it.

I enjoyed Heart Sick so much, I wanted to read Sweetheart next. As a duo, the novels work well together. They feel less like a series and more like two parts of the same novel. I confess, I did not enjoy the mystery and storyline of Sweetheart as much, but I did enjoy the characters more. Cain has created mesmerizing portraits of human imperfection. The third book in the series, Evil at Heart, is set to be published in September. I will be eager to read it, and I trust it will be a good story. My one hope is that Chelsea Cain recognizes the limits of these characters; at a certain point, the continuation of this story may become preposterous. Until then, I'll be tuning in.

Ratings: Heart Sick 4.5 (out of 5); Sweetheart 4 (out of 5)

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library

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