Friday, February 5, 2010

Book 11 - Heart Sick

I have an unhealthy obsession with Gretchen Lowell.

She's a serial killer, and a few nights ago, she led a class for me and a couple of my friends on how to follow in her footsteps. Kind of like Serial Killing 101.

As vivid as that dream was, my obsession is quite real. Which is testament to the powerful writing of Chelsea Cain. Heart Sick is not polished in the traditional sense. The author flips from past to present tense, often slips out of point of view, and leaves some loose ends. But maybe that's part of her brilliance.

Cain's style is raw and gritty and somehow real. So real, in fact, I have deep sympathy for Archie Sheridan - Heart Sick's tortured cop - and am thinking about dying my hair pink. It seems to work for the book's unassuming heroine, Susan.

To say Heart Sick "affected" me would be a gross understatement.

When we meet Archie Sheridan, he is already tortured. He is the "last victim" of serial killer Gretchen Lowell, a beautiful and manipulative woman whose list of victims is 200 innocent long. Instead of killing Archie, she kidnaps and tortures him - and at one point carves a heart into his torso, a permanent imprint of her power over him. And then, after killing Archie, she brings him back to life and turns herself in.

That's where this story begins - with Gretchen in jail, Archie popping pills to survive, and a new serial killer on the loose. Added to the mix is Susan, a quirky journalist tasked with profiling the tortured cop. She comes to him with pink hair and a lot of baggage - and to say much more would spoil it for you.

By far, the most compelling - and ingenious - parts of this book are the conversations between Gretchen and Archie, both while he flashes back to captivity, or during his weekly Sunday visits to her prison cell in Hannibal / Clarice style. Heart Sick isn't as well done as Silence of the Lambs, of course, but what book ever could be? Still, Gretchen is a formidable antagonist - beautiful, intelligent, perfectly poised, ruthless...and somehow, I'm in love with her.

Heart Sick is peppered with gruesome descriptions of death and torture, enough to make even my BF Karen grin. Except it wasn't the "gore" that disturbed me, or even the predictability of the plot, but rather Cain's ability to get under my skin. In the final scenes between Gretchen and Archie, my skin scrawled with disgust, but also awe. Few books have left me with such a lasting impression.

Cain keeps Gretchen's back story close to her chest, ensuring I'll buy the next book in this series, Sweetheart. The tag line for it is: Gretchen escapes. Nuff said. Yep, I'm "running" to the book store tonight to buy it.

Right after I place my order on Cain's website for my "I'd kill for a cup of coffee" mug and a blood red "Run Gretchen" t-shirt.

The Book In My Bag Today: Deeper Than The Dead, Tami Hoag


  1. You've been so keen on this book for a few days now I had to look it up. I don't read a ton of thrillers, but I loved the first chapter. Loved it. I think it's because the prose was so understated. It's almost like the writer made a choice — intentional or intentional, I don't know — to refrain from overwriting. The sheer horror of the story breathes through in the tone.

    Anyway, I have to say that between you, and the fact the first two chapters are available on-line, I'm hooked.

  2. There are some things about the book you won't like - some things that go against everything you know about writing. And in some places, the book is predictable. But the emotion and rawness of the work is strong enough to make me forgive all of that and just get lost in - or perhaps obsessed by - the book.

    Should I bring it to crit next week?

  3. If you don't mind it sitting for a while, sure, that would be awesome. I still have eleventy-seven book ahead of it. (Mind you, that first chapter's still pinging around in my mind...)