Desert Isle Keeper
The sequel to Chelsea Cain’s superb Heartsick is just as satisfying as the first book. Sweetheart, despite the cute name, isn’t a romance. It might be more apropos to call it an anti-romance. Still, if you read the first, you must read the second.
Sweetheart picks up shortly after Heartsick. A body of woman has been found in a park and there are no leads as who she is or why she was there. Detective Archie Sheridan is on the case, but he can’t help but remember the first body-in-a-park he was assigned to: a prostitute murdered by serial killer Gretchen Lowell. Archie, a pill addict, is still hung up on his weird relationship with Gretchen, his one time torturer. It’s been a few months now that Archie hasn’t seen Gretchen – he’s visited her at prison every week since her capture – and he’s feeling the effects.
Meanwhile, Susan Ward, a reporter, is still working on an exposé of a high profile senator and his affair with a 14 year-old. Just as she’s about to send it to press the senator dies in a car accident that is too suspicious for Susan’s comfort. When Susan starts to connect the dots of her senator scandal and the dead bodies Archie keeps finding, they get another shock: Gretchen has escaped. Archie knows who and what she wants: him. He also knows that the only way to get her back into custody is to offer himself up as bait.
If I had to pick my favorite thing about this book it would be the characters. The thorough characterizations from Heartsick are enhanced in this novel. The twisted relationship between Archie and Gretchen is explored and you learn much more about how and why it has become what it is. That storyline is the heart and soul of the story. I had a hard time believing that any sane human, especially one in law enforcement, could hold any type of torch for such a sicko like Gretchen. That is, until you really see her do her thing. She is such a monster, but has a way of drawing people in to do her bidding. It’s almost hypnotic the way she can manipulate men and women alike.
Susan is an interesting woman and I still don’t know what the author has planned for her. She’s funny, sarcastic, smart as a whip and one of my favorite fictional people ever. Gone is the pink hair from Heartsick. Those who thought she might decide to grow up a bit after her bout with self-reflection will be happy to know she has. But first she dyed her hair a vibrant shade of turquoise. Her hippie mom is back, too and plays a small, integral role in the plot. Just as delightful as her daughter, Bliss offered some much needed levity to this dark suspense novel
This is not a book for the fainthearted, though. Slightly less gruesome than its predecessor, Sweetheart still rides the boundaries of what is comfortable. I like when an author goes over the line a little for the sake of good storytelling. For instance Archie is not perfect and does a few things that could make people squirm. This all leads to why he is the way he is. For someone who is not the “bad guy,” he does some very questionable things. It will be interesting to see what becomes of him.
The real “bad guy” is actually a bad girl, and, boy-o, is she bad. Many have compared Gretchen Lowell to the infamous Hannibal Lector. I see the similarity between the two and their storylines (Hannibal and Clarice, Gretchen and Archie). I can only hope that Ms. Cain doesn’t go the road that Thomas Harris went with his dysfunctional couple. Gretchen, for all her evil doing, hasn’t gotten a real punishment yet in my opinion and I can’t wait till she gets hers. Hopefully that will be in the upcoming Evil at Heart. Fingers crossed everybody.
For a girl like me who doesn’t do straight suspense very often, I sure got hooked on this series. Thanks to Anne Marble’s terrific review of Heartsick, I think there will be many more fans of this great writer. Chelsea Cain is an author we should keep our eye on.