by Julia Heaberlin
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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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