I love a good thriller. I can’t remember where I first heard about Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, but something made me want to get the audiobook version. I started listening and I was amazed. At first glance, it seems like this is a story you’ve read before, but as it continues, you realize that this is an artful narrative with several dimension to it.
At sixteen, Tessa Cartwright was left in a grave on a farm covered in black-eyed susans with another dead girl and the bones of two others. Sixteen years later, the man who was convicted of the crime is set to be executed.
Now an adult, Tessa is second-guessing her actions all those years ago, partially because of the sudden appearance of a patch of black-eyed susans that appear outside her bedroom window. Needing answers, Tessa enlists the help of an attorney and a forensic investigator as they attempt to prove who is really responsible for the crime. At the same time, memories of the event, and of her best friend haunt Tessa, resulting in a tense and suspenseful mystery that just wouldn’t let go.
I really enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I have an issue with most novels where I can see the end before I’m halfway through. With this one, I thought that I knew exactly where it was going, but I was still pleasantly surprised when it got there.
Here are a few things I liked and disliked about the book:
What I Liked
The Cover — It should come as no surprise that I am attracted to a good cover and a body lying in Black-eyed Susans with her face obscured is a pretty nice, on the nose cover! Plus, this is probably my history as an art student talking, but this is a great use of vignetting.
Short Chapters — The thing I really appreciate about this book is that the chapters are short and that makes the book easy to pick up and put down if needed, but it’s also a complicated thriller so it really just makes it easier to devour portions of the book faster.
The Dual Perspective – I really liked that the book goes between Tessa in 1995 and Tessa in the present day. I think that it’s enlightening to see how she’s changed, and also how A leads to B.
The Changing Perspective – The book isn’t just told in a Tessa and Tessie format, but also a “Countdown” section that follows present day Tessa, and a “Tessa and Lydia” section that follows her and her best friend. It sounds like a lot of shifts, but I think it works really well for the story.
The Ghosts – I love the way this book is told with the idea that this experience has haunted Tessa, and the way it’s been portrayed. It relies a lot on memory and how inaccurate it is. At the same time, you have these ghosts whispering to Tessa, and driving her, and it feels like a modern Gothic in a sense, with some forensic science, and high stakes legal drama mixed in.
Tessa Actually Has Some Smarts – As I said in the summary, the chapters are divided between Tessie in 1995 and Tessa in the present day. I found grown-up Tessa to be remarkably well-adjusted. I read another thriller recently where the character had no business investigating something but decided to pursue it anyway. Tessa has the smarts to actually call the cops and get a version of “Project Innocence” involved.
Jo and Charlie – These two characters fill very different roles in Tessa’s life. Jo is a professional acquaintance working on the case, but she feels as fleshed out and with as much of a backstory as Tessa. I always appreciate when the secondary characters feel just as dimensional as the main character, and I think Heaberlin achieved that with Jo. Charlie is a nice little bit of comic relief that I think the book needed, but her humor doesn’t feel overused and doesn’t exist in one dimension.
What I Disliked
Lucas – There were so many characters that came into Tessa’s life throughout the book, including several from her past, but when I think about it, I am not sure why we had to have Lucas, Charlie’s father come into the picture. While I like that his character shows up for his daughter, it’s also clear that he’s there to do some sort of love triangle thing. He didn’t really bother me, I just wonder if he was really needed.
The Ending – I don’t want to give it away, but the one thing that really got under my skin about this book is the ending. I am not saying the ending is terrible, it just feels like a bit of a let down after all the tension. At the same time, it doesn’t really let the tension go either. (No, it’s not a cliffhanger. It just leaves you in a state where you can’t stop thinking “What did I just listen to?”)
FINAL RATING: 5 Stars
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