Title: Black-Eyed Susans
Author: Julia Heaberlin
Published: August 11, 2015
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Synopsis: “I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.” Tessa Cartwright was found nearly dead amid a scattering of bones in a Texas field. Despite having no memory of the event, she is the star witness in the trial against a black man believed to be the Black-Eyed Susan killer. He’s convicted and sentenced to die, and Tessa grows up in constant fear that she may have convicted the wrong man. Years later, she is given the chance to set the record straight and set an innocent man free. But will the real Black-Eyed Susan let her?
So this is an older book that I came across on Goodreads and thought I would check out. I wanted it to be the last book I read in October since it had such a menacing, spooky vibe to it. I actually managed to finish it right on Halloween, which was awesome! It definitely lived up to the spooky feelings. I got goosebumps thinking about who the Black-Eyed Susan killer was, and it kept me on my toes for the whole ride through!
What I loved most about this book was the psychological aspect of the whole story. Obviously, Tessa is a little messed up as an adult (since she was found in a field with a freshly dead body and numerous human remains), and that came across right from the start. She is constantly talking about the voices of the other Black-Eyed Susans in her head throughout the narrative, and that was very jarring for me as the reader. It got me deeper into her mindset as the story progressed.
The chapters alternate between the present day, when Tessa and a group of lawyers, scientists and cops try their best to free the convicted Black-Eyed Susan killer whom they all believe to be innocent, and the past, when Tessa attended therapy sessions and was prepared by the district attorney for her testimony at said killer’s trial.
The only problem is, at the time, she couldn’t remember what happened to her. No face that she could recognize, no idea how she got picked up that night and dumped in the field some time later. All of it is missing, so how did she become the “star witness” in a case against a man she couldn’t identify as her attacker? These are questions that constantly come up throughout Black-Eyed Susans, and ones that really make me think that our justice system isn’t always very reliable.
What I Liked
One aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the never-ending science behind evidence and DNA. Two of the Black-Eyed Susan remains were never formally identified when they were discovered with Tessa. It’s only years later through extensive DNA analysis that names were paired with the remains. Heaberlin did some fantastic research in that regard, and everything was explained so that someone who doesn’t quite understand science all that much (ME!) can get a grip on the tactics used.
The Ending… Was Okay
Obviously, we find out who the Black-Eyed Susan killer is in the end. Without giving ANYTHING away, I wasn’t completely shocked. It almost seemed like a bit of an afterthought. There are some characters from Tessa’s past that play a pivotal role in the ending, and that added a nice twist on the whole whodunnit aspect. Despite that, it wasn’t just about figuring out who the killer was. It was also seeing Tessa come to terms with what happened to her both during and after the attack itself. She was plagued throughout her adult life that the killer was constantly following her and planting random black-eyed susans wherever she lived. There was a hint of paranoia in Tessa’s psychosis, and I was glad for her to finally be free of the guilt and fear she has had to live with.
The ONE Thing I Didn’t Like
There was only one thing that I wasn’t a fan of in the novel. Obviously, we find out who the killer is in the end. But it wasn’t because Tessa ever recovered her memories. Characters from Tessa’s past come back and basically fill her in on who the killer is, but we never get those recovered memories from Tessa. So, essentially, we never understand what actually happened to her between the night she was abducted and when she was found in that field. I can live with it, though, since I’m sure people don’t just recover memories that easily. It’s sort of a psychological conundrum, but it leaves us guessing as to what might have happened to her.
Despite its faults, I really enjoyed this book and got more out of it than just a whodunnit. Black-Eyed Susans was more than just getting to the bottom of a murder mystery. It had some deeper controversies, including the death penalty and scientific exploration in crime. This was an overall great read that gave me sinister feelings just in time for Halloween! I’m glad I happened to run across this book and got the chance to read it for October. It was the perfect end to a perfect month of reading!
Because of this book, Julia Heaberlin is on my author radar. Her writing is impeccable, and I actually got approval on Netgalley for her upcoming novel, Paper Ghosts. I’m so excited to get to it in the coming weeks!
“‘Closure doesn’t exist,’ she responds smoothly. ‘Just… awareness. That you can’t ever go back. That you know a truth about life’s randomness that most other people don’t.’”
“Like the Brothers Grimm, I ascribed power to an ordinary, innocent object. Oh, the hell that can be wrought from a hand mirror. A single pea. A one-eyed flower.”