Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

August 11th, 2015 Kimberly Review 81 Comments

11th Aug
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Black-Eyed Susans
by Julia Heaberlin
Genres: Thriller
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
Rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one. As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row. Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue. What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night. Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.


Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin was an intense, fascinating psychological thriller with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Told in alternating chapters in the past and present this suspenseful story held me in its web.

Five reasons to drop everything and pick up Black-Eyed Susan

  • The past: In 1995 at the age of  sixteen Tess Cartwright was found in a Texas field, buried alive along with the dead bodies of other missing girls. Their shared grave was covered in the wildflowers known as Black-Eyed Susans. Thus, the press dubbed these girls the Black-Eyed Susans. Her memories of the events leading up to her discovery are shattered, but her testimony helped sentence a man to death row. We learn about her childhood, friends, family and her recovery. We tag along for visits to her psychologist, spend time with her best friend and take part in courtroom preparation.
  • The present: Tess still struggles nearly two decades later but has forged a life as a single mother and artist. A patch of Black-Eyed Susans planted outside her bedroom window in the dead of winter has her reexamining events from the past. She agrees to work with lawyers to exonerate the man accused of the murders and her abduction. She worries that, the killer is still out there and sending her messages. Through the past and the present, we learn that Tess has not shared everything and it was creeptastic.
  • The Writing: Heaberlin spins a griping tale, with an unreliable narrator who will have you suspecting everyone and questioning Tess as her memories begin to emerge. From red herrings, mysterious packages and quests to unearth clues the author quickly pulls the reader in.  The author managed to make this a dark, suspenseful thriller without gore or violence. By sharing with us past and present events, she is able to give us an intimate knowledge of Tess’s mindset, her recovery, the trial and the new investigation. The past/present format for unfolding this tale worked wonderfully adding suspense and depth to both the characters and story.
  • Well researched and fascinating: In the present story, we tag along with the forensic team. We learn about DNA, exhume bodies and begin to grasp advances in this field. A scientist who ends up befriending Tess uses bone to extract mitochondrial DNA. (mtDNA) mtDNA is inherited solely from the mother and they can use it to determine the identity of the dead girls. One of the specialist was able to determine where each of the dead girls lived based on deposits in their bones. I found this fascinating and the author delivered everything in non-technical language.
  • Twists, turns and draw dropping conclusions: I read an enormous amount of books and it takes a lot to surprise me but I was kept guessing in Black-Eyed Susans. I had my list narrowed down to two possible suspects. A line in the past tipped the scale and I was ninety-nine percent sure but even with that, the revelation and climatic ending shocked me.

Blacked-Eyed Susans was a riveting psychological thriller. I found the delivery to be fresh, engaging and downright suspenseful.

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About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw, Howler and proud Nonna. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

81 Responses to “Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin”

  1. Lexxie

    Black Eyed Susans is on my list of books I really want to read, Kim, and your review alone gave me chills, so that’s a really good sign! I’m glad you enjoyed the creepiness of this story, now I can’t wait!

  2. Deborah

    I’m really keen to read this Kimberley and recently requested it from an upcoming new titles list here in Oz (so it mustn’t be out yet, or is coming out in paperback). I’ve read so many great reviews I literally yelped with delight when I saw it on the list.

    Thanks so much for your review as it’s reminded me of what I have to look forward to!

  3. Tiffany

    I also read this one, and loved it! It totally kept me guessing, as well, and it was wonderful how Heaberlin managed to keep the suspense going without loads of violence. Actually, I think that’s what made it scarier for me. Great review!

  4. Olivia

    I first saw this one in a book haul on another blog, and when I recognised the cover I decided it would be worth it to check this one out. And it does sound like it turns out to be quite a pretty good read, where the past and present runnings are handled very well.

  5. Kristin

    This sounds amazing! Like Kathy Reichs + Stephen King. I’m going to go hunting for it and see if my mom, who eats forensics and scary books for breakfast, would want to read this with me 🙂 Awesome review!!!!!!!!!

      • Kristin

        That one I don’t know!! I’ll have ask b/c I’d love to support Tess, esp. after her getting screwed by the makers of the movie Gravity.

  6. Tika

    My mother and I are HUGE fans of psychological thrillers so when I stumbled across Black Eyed Susans a week and a half ago, I immediately added it to my ‘ Next-To-Buy ‘ list on amazon! I love the fact that the author did her research to give us a next-to-reality look on a investigation! I am DEFINITELY picking this up asap because come on, who doesn’t love an unreliable character! I can just picture how creepy and twisty this story is going to turn out to be 🙂

  7. Lorna

    The blurb had me going to Amazon and putting it on my wish list before I even read your review! Sounds like it’s right up my alley-thanks for sharing!

  8. Sarah

    Yikes! First she has to help but the man away and then get him exonerated because it looks like the real killer is still at large. That is creeepy! I have been meaning to pick up a copy of this. I love physiological thrillers and have been meaning to get back into them!

  9. Kathy

    I really, REALLY want to read this book, but my reading has slowed down so much with school starting back. I’m happy to see that you loved it, too. I haven’t seen a bad review for it among bloggers, yet. 🙂

  10. Katherine

    Yep! I’m going to have to read this one! I think I’ll read it with the lights on and the doors locked though. Sounds seriously creepy!

  11. Heather Duff

    I do need do drop everything I am reading, this sounds amazing and a book that keeps you guessing is a rarity these day, great review!

  12. Mary Kirkland

    I absolutely love psychological thrillers. I like movies and books because they usually really keep me interested and there’s usually a twist in there somewhere.

  13. Tyler H Jolley

    I, too, have been seeing this one everywhere. It sounds like such a great read.

    To answer your reply from yesterday, I didn’t blow up my blog, but your post was a good reminder to back it up 🙂

  14. Stormi

    Not a hug fan of the past and present going back and forth but I must admit this one has me a bit curious. 🙂

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It is done really well. Usually I like one over the other but in this case both held my attention. It is broken up nicely confusion.

  15. Megan

    This is not the type of book I would usually pick up but your reviews always get me. This sound so so good.I want to know who the killer is!!

  16. Braine Talk Supe

    I loved this one as well especially ho Tessa kept me guessing. And don’t get me started with the bestfriend?! At one point I was thinking the BFF was an imaginary friend.

  17. Rosa

    This book seems great. I love thrillers with twists and turns! And the cover is something else!

  18. Sophia Rose

    I love it when a story is so riveting and the mystery so well written that I’m still guessing at the end. Thanks for sharing about this one.

  19. Grace MyBookSnack

    I can’t even imagine going through this. Scary! This book sounds really fascinating! I love a psycho/thriller that’s well-researched.

  20. sherry fundin

    Immediately added it to Goodreads. Everything about his sounds fantastic to me. Thanks so much for making me aware of Black Eyed Susans and Julia.

  21. Laurel-Rain Snow

    I LOVED this book, too…and like you, I was guessing until the very end. So many stunning aspects to the story. I have read and loved two other books by this author. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Jenny

    “I found this fascinating and the author delivered everything in non-technical language.”

    WOO HOO! I was getting a little nervous there that it would be a lot of medical terminology that would bog the story down, so glad that’s not the case Kim. This sounds fantastic. I’m recommending it to my sister in law as well, this is right up her alley:)

  23. Nick

    I’ve heard really good things about this book, Kim, and I’m excited to try it out myself. The mystery seems very well-written and everything about it appeals to me.

  24. Grace

    This sounds so good. I love a book that can keep you guessing. Also, that they include forensics – hadn’t seen that in a review yet.

  25. Rashika

    I LOVE the sound of the this thriller! I always enjoy thrillers that feature unreliable MCs and I get the feeling something went where wrong 20ish years ago when Tessa helped lock a guy behind bars :DDDD (*dramatic drum roll*)

    I am so glad you enjoyed this, Kimba! 🙂

  26. Cynthia

    Great review. The ending to this one was a complete shock to me. I had no idea! Mystery is not usually my favorite genre, but I loved this one.

  27. kindlemom1

    I’ve been seeing this everywhere and all the reviews have been fabulous for it. I so need to pick this one up.

  28. Christy

    Dude, yes, I need to read this. I love when the forensics is well researched, it drives me bonkers when it’s painfully amateurish.