Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Black-Eyed Susans ~ Julia Heaberlin

Nominated for the 2014/2015 TLA Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List, Julia Heaberlin’s third outing, after Playing Dead and Lie Still, is an intricate and suspenseful story of memory and sacrifice, within the confines of a serial killer tale.  Avoiding the usual graphic and gruesome descriptions commonly found in this type of book, the author instead relies on excellent character development, figurative language and nail-biting suspense as she alternates between the year 1995, when Tessie Cartwright was found barely alive in a mass grave, surrounded by Black-Eyed Susan flowers, and the present day, shortly before the man accused of the crime is to be executed.

Tessa Cartwright is an artist with a teenage daughter who has struggled, somewhat successfully, to overcome her horrific youthful trauma.  She doesn’t let anyone know that she sometimes hears the voices of the other women who did not survive The Black-Eyed Susan Killer, whispers that tell her that the actual killer might not be the one behind bars.  The author very deliberately sprinkles clues in each chapter, present and past, and the reader is inexorably drawn into the story, unwilling to stop reading until the next part of the plot is revealed.

I actually started this book on audio for my work commute, checked out the print version at my library and downloaded the digital version, as well, so that I could keep reading the story, no matter where I was!  The narrator is excellent on the audio book, handling the various characters and the Texas accents with ease.  I became emotionally attached to the characters: Tessie/Tessa, her daughter Charlie, the elderly neighbor Effie and the other characters who are working hard to prove that an innocent man is in jail for this heinous crime.  The book also provides keen insights into the experience of death-row inmates, most of whom probably deserve to be there, but not all; and this makes the reader think about our justice system in a new and different light.

I read so many books that I feel I can say, without a doubt, that this is a well-written, well-constructed and mesmerizing tale of psychological suspense, and as an added bonus, I had absolutely no clue how it would end!  Highly recommended.

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