A few months back, I joined the Amazon Vine program. They send me books (for FREE) and all they want out of me is a review. Pretty easy, right? One of the books I requested was Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain. It was Book 2 in a series. As you all know, I completely anal about reading books in series order, and I never would have requested it, but Amazon sent me a copy of Cain's 1st book, HeartSick (352 pgs, St. Martin's Press, 2007) as well. And I am so thankful they did! I would have hated to miss out on this series!!
Archie doesn't know for sure it's her until that moment. There is a dull bloom of warmth in his spine, his vision blurs, and he knows that Gretchen Lowell is the killer. He realizes that he has been drugged, but it's too late. He fumbles for his gun, but he is ham-fisted and can only lift it awkwardly from his belt clip and hold it out as if it were a gift for her. She takes it and smiles, kissing him gently on the forehead.
2 years ago, Archie Sheridan spent 10 days being tortured by Gretchen Lowell. For 10 years, Archie was on the task force that was investigating the serial killer, dubbed the "Beauty Queen Killer". Then Gretchen Lowell walked into his office and offered her services as a consulting psychiatrist. Not only was she off-the-charts intelligent, but she was also extremely beautiful. Little did anyone expect she was actually the killer. Very few serial killers were woman. Especially one this brutal. Besides, who would have thought the killer would be so arrogant as to insert themselves into the investigation?? But Gretchen did, and she came for Archie.
But in a weird twist, after 10 days of torturing Archie to the brink of death, Gretchen actually saved his life. In fact, she called 9-1-1 for medical assistance and sealed her fate. She was caught, but through plea bargaining, she avoided the death penalty. Part of her agreement was that she would tell the police where to find the bodies of the 200 + victims she had tortured and killed. But there was a condition to this agreement. Gretchen would only speak to one person -- Archie.
Now, 2 years later, another serial killer has surfaced. Nicknamed the "After School Killer", he is abducting high school girls on their way home at night. Archie has been asked to come out of retirement and head the new task force. But Archie is a broken man. Not only has he not worked since the incident, but he takes enough Vicoden on a daily basis to sedate a small elephant. He has a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions from anti-depressants to Xanax to sleeping pills. His wife divorced him. And every Sunday Archie drives to the prison to speak to Gretchen Lowell. He's obsessed with her, and not in a healthy way.
Susan Ward is a features writer for the local Portland newspaper. She'd love to be serious reporter, but so far, she hasn't been given the chance. Spunky and independent,with bright pink hair, Susan has been tapped to do a story on Archie and the task force. She doesn't know why she was requested for this assignment, but she isn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Following Archie around is definitely the biggest thing that has ever happened in her career.
Because Gretchen is in prison for most of this book, there are the obvious comparisons to another literary killer -- Hannibal Lecter. But in my opinion, Gretchen Lowell makes Hannibal Lecter look like a Sunday School Teacher. Through a few small chapters that flash back to the ten days Archie was captured, we get a small glance at how incredibly brutal this woman really is. The kinds of torture she put her victims through are so twised, I had trouble reading about them.. And not only was she brutal in her kills, but she is equally so with Archie. She is a master manipulator. She "killed" most of him during those 10 days. But now she is keeping him in a prison of her own making. He can't seem to let go of her. It's almost like a weird form of Stockholm Syndrome.
The Susan storyline was a little weak in comparison to the Gretchen storyline. You just didn't get as much of a chance to get to know her as well. But her character is likable. She is tough, although not as tough as she thinks she is.
But Archie is such a wonderful character. He is flawed almost to the point of destruction. Chelsea Cain has created a man so human, there are some chapters it's almost painful to read. You just want to yell at him, then hug him the next minute.
On top of the great characters is a really fast-paced, riveting story. One that will keep you turning page after page, just dying to know what's going to happen next. An extremely enjoyable thriller, HeartSick will keep you on your toes. And just praying you never see Gretchen Lowell on a street corner in your neighborhood!! I was so impressed with this book, that I immediately started Book #2 - SweetHeart. If you are a fan of the thriller/serial killer genre, this is a definite must-read for you. Even if you aren't a big fan, this is a very enjoyable book! 4.5/5