5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is almost like two books, one a fairly run-of-the-mill serial killer tale, and the other something far more enigmatic, both horrifying and yet fascinating. Others here have already outlined the plot so I won't repeat that. The present-day story of a middle-aged male serial killer preying on teenage girls has been done to death and I hate the inherent misogyny implicit in that kind of narrative. But the other story - and the reason I read this book - is something quite frighteningly different.
The relationship between Gretchen Lowell, the beautiful and terrifying psychopath, and Archie, the detective who trailed her and her final victim, is brilliantly drawn. Calling up theories of Stockholm syndrome and then pushing them to the max, this is an obsessive symbiotic relationship, dark and very disturbing. The relationships - both textual and psychological - between this book and the Silence of the Lambs are deliberately recalled when Gretchen calls a young journalist `Clarice', but the gender inversions (both authorial and in terms of character) turn this into something quite different, albeit with something of the same shadowy humour. The final encounter, in particular, between Archie and Gretchen really ramps up the emotional stakes and the issue of who is, ultimately, in control is left unresolved and open.
Make no mistake, this is a very violent book and the accusations of torture-porn are probably correct. And yet there's something so fascinating at the centre that I was drawn in completely. In many ways, Gretchen (and the book overall) exert the same ambiguous pull on the reader as the character Gretchen does on Archie: we know it's not good for us, we know we probably shouldn't carry on and yet we just can't help ourselves...
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2007
I read a lot of thrillers - in fact, I devour them with voracious regularity. I especially like ones featuring serial killers, and I also keep an eye out for new talents in the genre.
So, I snapped up a copy of Heartsick as soon as I could get my hands on one, as it's a debut, and it stars one of the most frightening serial killers I've ever come across - Gretchen Lowell. Yes, Gretchen is a female, which for a serial killer is a rare thing in thriller fiction (and in real life!).
I won't give away too much of the plot, save to say that the book is a dual-narrative, featuring a truly chilling back-story involving Gretchen, and a detective - Archie Sheridan - who she is holding captive. These scenes are not for the faint-hearted, but represent some of the most powerful I've read in a long time.
The second strand of the story takes place a year or two later, and involves the hunt for a new killer, who Detective Sheridan is chasing. In a twist very reminiscent of the wonderful Silence of the Lambs, he enlists Gretchen's help (from her prison cell) in tracking down this killer. However, it becomes clear that Archie and Gretchen's relationship is even more complex than you first realise.
Heartsick really is cracking stuff - if you like your thillers with a dash of gore and a huge dose of page-turning suspense, do not miss it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The debut novel from Chelsea Cain is built around a cop named Archie Sheridan and his pursuit of the 'After School Strangler', somebody who abducts, rapes and strangles teenage girls on their way home from school in the region of Portland, Oregon. This is Sheridan's first return to work after more than two years of recovery from his own kidnap, torture and near death at the hands of The Beauty Killer, a woman called Gretchen Lowell who is possibly the most prolific serial killer in US crime-fiction history.
If you like your murder mysteries to shock and disturb then you will like this very much. Val McDermid has proved pretty good in this field (for example with The Torment of Others), as has Mark Billingham (Sleepyhead) and Mo Hayder (Birdman and The Treatment). And although on the whole I generally prefer American crime writing to British, they don't usually do the shock-horror thing quite as well as the Brits do. This is an exception, Heartsick is more moving, more disturbing and just plain better than anything I have read from the likes of Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter or Jeffery Deaver - and I've read just about everything that trio have written.
The character of Archie Sheridan, and probably this story as a whole, is defined and made memorable by the psychopathic killer Gretchen Lowell, who like Hannibal Lecter is confined to maximum security lock-up even before the story begins. Most of 'what happened' a little over two years earlier is told in snippets, how Sheridan's life was utterly and almost certainly irreversibly changed as a result of his ten days' imprisonment. The beauty of the ordeal, if you will forgive the pun, is that while his sufferings are described in surreal detail from his drug-induced point of view, it never comes across as indulgent, corny or shocking for shock's sake. And in any case, what is more emotionally disturbing isn't the pain Sheridan went through at the time, but the pain and psychological damage that he has to endure now, despite being long since free. It's a most extreme if not unforgettable case of Stockholm Syndrome, in which hostages fall under the spell of their captors. The roles are now reversed, with Gretchen Lowell behind bars, but she continues to hold a very strong influence over the life of the man who was responsible for putting her there. This relationship is right at the heart of the story and is what makes it special. I have a feeling that it could be converted into a film and if it was, then that would assure its commercial success but more importantly its deserved place in the annuls of iconic criminal psychopaths because we need another benchmark nearly twenty years after Lecter.
I should add that there are few, if any, similarities to Silence of the Lambs (which as a finished package remains the better story) but the character of Gretchen Lowell and her extraordinary manipulatory powers make her the most evil psycho in crime fiction memory. I can't think of a single character created over the past 25 years who combines such sinister scariness with equal measures of beauty, sensuality and sexual appeal. The only problem with this concept, however, is that almost everything that could have been squeezed out of the relationship between Sheridan and Lowell is done within the confines of this novel, and resurrecting it again in the sequel might tempt readers to accuse the author of overkill. Sheridan is interesting on his own but absolutely rivetting in partnership with Lowell; that can't carry on indefinitely so I am left to wonder how on earth Chelsea Cain can top this - even match it - with Sheridan on his own.
But it remains one of the best shock-thrillers I have read in recent times, superbly written with some of the most outstanding character creation and development I can remember from any crime fiction writer.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2007
Having read the other reviews i really can see why they like this book so much - but for me there was something a little contrived about the setup. this is not to say it is not a great book - you could happily while away a few hours reading it, but its not a classic.
Gretchen Lowell is a great pyscho but needed to be fleshed out a lot better than she was - i am aware she was to be a bare bones type of pyscho - no rambling speeches of how daddy abused me and thats why i kill people blah blah blah and i liked that - but we need more characterisation. Maybe in the next book.
Same with the periphery characters - harry and anne a detective and pyschologist - the mini glimpses we saw into their lives were utterley pointless - either expand the character and let their life explain them or leave it alone.
one highlight in the book was its main character Archie - fabulous - well rounded a real pyschological treasure. she truly showed she could write, did Ms Cain with Archie, we needed to see more of that.
Regards contrived - isn't it nice how all the charcters were interwined? granted you had a reason how it had happened but please?
In the end this is a nice book - it won't stretch you intellectually or morally and if Ms Cain continues with this series i do not doubt that they will get better - but this is a rather good try. For an emotionally squirming novel - which this aims itself as - try the first half of Retribution by Jillian Hoffman ( only the first half mind you) or anything by John Connolly or Karin Slaughter. But all in all this isn't bad just not great.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2011
As most reviewers here i read a lot of crime fiction and thought this was going to be another serial killer story but i was so wrong!
The way the characters are portrayed and how they interact with eachother makes you almost ache with sympathy for the situation they have found themselves in. I so want there to be a happy ending to this series but i cant see it personally!
This story has stayed with me, and mildly disturbed me, to be quite honest! I think thats why i gave it only 4 stars instead of 5, it was almost TO disturbing and thought provoking! It also makes me wonder about the state of mind of Miss Cain (or Mrs for all i know!) how on earth someone can write something so utterly twisted and horrifying and be a functioning member of society is beyond me!
As for this whole Thomas Harris being better, i had the misfortune of reading Red Dragon not long back and i was so bored i barely finished it so i dont understand why people think its so wonderful but there you are.
I recommend this book only if you have a strong stomach and dont think to much about it afterwards!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Usualy, the pre-release hype for a book leads only to disappointment when finally reading it. In this instance, that hype is fully justified.
It is a tale of two stories entwined around each other. Detective Archie Sheridan returns to his old job after two years recovering from a torturous ordeal at the hands of Gretchen Lowell, a psychopathic serial killer. He returns to track down yet another serial killer which brings him into contact with a young reporter, Susan Ward.
As he hunts for clues, Archie cannot rid himself of the hold Lowell still has over him. Popping pain-killers by the bucketload, he is in constant contact with Lowell whilst she serves out her life sentence and whilst Archie tries to come to terms with his own life sentence. Horribly tortured during ten days of captivity, he struggles to keep hold of his own family ties as the still-at-large killer both eludes him and yet gets closer to him through the young reporter.
The book is excellently written as the author manages to have us relive Archie's ordeal intertwined with the hunt for the second killer. The flashbacks, which I don't usually like, work well in this book. One feels for Archie and his desolation and yet one sees hope as he painfully works his way to a final understanding of how to get rid of the spectre of Lowell and regain his personal life.
Whether he returns in a sequel remains to be seen but, whether or not, Chelsea Cain is certainly an author to watch out for next time around; I'm sure we won't be disappointed - based on the strength and competence and excitement of this novel.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2013
It's as if you need to be gorier and more and more bizarre in your murders these days to write a good crime novel. The storyline in this is almost as ridiculous as the TV programme The Following (a barometer for badness if you like). I discovered this writer through her forwards in Ira Levin's novels. The two writers are poles apart and then some.
on 12 February 2015
This is very much 'Hannibal Lecter as a girl' in theme. Archie Sheridan was tortured by serial killer Gretchen Lowell, and now he is on another case, but still communicates with Gretchen.
I like the idea of Gretchen but she is a bit one-dimensionally evil. There is no depth to her. Being beautiful isn't enough to keep me interested, I'm afraid. It would be nice to see her develop.
Archie is a bit annoying, I just wanted him to snap out of it, but his relationship with Gretchen is quite interesting.
Susan is annoying and annoying dense. She's supposed to be savvy but misses incredibly obvious stuff which leads to her being in danger.
I also felt that the torture was overdone. It just seemed to plonked in there for shock value.
Overall, not a whole lot happens for most of this book. I felt like more could've been done with it. However, I did enjoy it and will probably read more in the series.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I had high hopes for this book after hearing rave reviews comparing it's killer to the likes of Hanibal Lector and Annie Wilkes and comparing the writing to that of Karin Slaughter.
Both of these statements, in my oppinion, are far to generous.
It felt to me like Cain was trying too hard to Gross out the reader. I'm not against gore in books Karin Slaughter is one of my favorite writers. However where Slaughters gore seems neccesary to the story Cains does not. Now this may boil down to the fact that this is Cains debut and she has a long way to go before she reaches the writing talent of say Slaughter, and for that reason I may have let it slide. But the truth is this book is boring.
There are no characters that the reader would care about. Not the sadistic serial killer who is so obviously based on Stephen Kings Annie Wilkes. Nor the drugged up cop with a broken marriage or the troubled reporter whos pink hair seems to be referenced almost every chapter.
No it all seems to me that Cain's selling factor was to base her Killer on famous previous killers and then to throw in some gorey details that have proven succesful for the likes of Karin Slaughter and Mo Hayder. This book seems to be looking for a niche, treading old ground and not really pushing any boundaries in the genre. And while that isn't unfamiliar with a debut and therefore not really a reason to award it with such a low mark I refer back to the the writing which really isnt up to standards debut or not.
Maybe Cain will make this into a good series and gain some credibility but im afraid I wont continue reading this series to find out. And i'd advise you to save your time and money and do the same
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2008
Annoyingly averaqe. Why? B/C the book does contain a fascinating serial killer called Gretchen Lowell, who makes Hanibal Lectre seem tame. She is sexy, intlligent and so so disturbing. The way she tormented Archie was brilliant, the chemistry and dnamic between them makes the book worthwhile alone - HOWEVER, the chapters with Gretchen are SO SCARCE its annoying. I was desperate for more of her and Archie instead of the lame, average killings going on which didnt entice me or intrigue me. The chapters where Archie and Gretchen meet (And susan later on) were so gripping it was fantastic. But amongst all the story telling, to only have a few diamond chapters isnt enough.
Overall, very average - and the worst part, Cain has the jewel; Gretchen Lowell - shes done the hard part in creating this fascinating beast. One only wonders and wishes what Harris or Gerritsen could have done with such a creation...