Thursday, September 17, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans

Title:  Black-Eyed Susans
Author:  Julia Heaberlin
Publication Information:  Ballantine. 2015. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0804177996 / 978-0804177993

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Thirty-two hours of my life are missing."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm the one who kept my monster alive."

Black-eyed susans are, on the one hand, such beautiful, bright flowers. On the other hand, the "Susans" is the name given to the victims of a serial killer. Tessa is the one who survived ... barely. She is the one who was found with the remains of others in the middle of a field of black-eyed susans. She is the one who struggles, years later, to create a life of herself and her child. She is the one whose past has returned to haunt her. Someone is planting and leaving black-eyes susans for her.

The killer was supposedly caught and is on death row. If he is truly the killer, then who is stalking Tessa? If he is not the killer, why is he on death row? For years, a group has sought to prove his innocence and has sought Tessa's cooperation in doing so. Now, Tessa is no longer sure if he is indeed guilty, and she decides to help.

So, we have an adult Tessa as she battles her increasing fears of her stalker, as she worries about her daughter, and as she joins the effort to free the man accused and convicted of trying to kill her. We also have teenage Tessie, in the time following the horrific attacks as she tries to recover and as she is a key in catching and convicting the killer. In both times, surrounding her are friends and family.

The book goes back and forth between the two periods. It is one of many books I have read recently that uses this technique. Unfortunately, in this one, the approach makes the book difficult to follow. So many of the characters are the same. The key change between the sections is the name - the adult Tessa versus the teenage Tessie. However, at times, I find myself confused as to what happens in what time period and where I am at a given point. My suggestion, if you read the book, is to pay close attention to the dates in the chapter headings.

The teenage sections of this book remind me of the book We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. The book has a young adult tone about it, and those sections in particular seem to focus on teenage angst, friendships, and relationships much more so than the mystery of what happened to the Susans.

For me, this detracts from the suspense of the book. With the teenage drama and the back and forth, I don't get caught up in the story or caught up in the suspense. Plus, for no reason that I can specify, I predicted what at least part of the ending brings. I can't point to the clues except that one of the first conversations that includes a certain character just strikes me as odd. So, my immediate thought is that this character and conversation is there for a reason. With that in mind, clues start revealing themselves throughout the book. Again, I don't know even why this conversation stands out to me, but it does, and there goes the suspense of the book.

The most interesting aspect of the book for me is the forensic science. Clearly, the author has done her research and shares some of the details of things like DNA testing and other forensic tools. Even some of the legal descriptions, however, include references to the OJ Simpson case, which I find jarring. I don't understand the reason for drawing in such a controversial case to this fictional story. The references seem simply to stand out rather than add anything to the story.

I chose this book because of its intriguing title and cover art. Unfortunately, that for me remains the most intriguing part of the book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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