Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It is 18 years after the event, Tessa Cartwright is watching the months go by leading up to the execution of Terrell Goodwin, the man tried and convicted of killing three women and the kidnapping and attempted murder of herself when she was sixteen. Although she attempts to keep the evilness of her childhood trauma from tainting the life of her own 16-year-old daughter, it seems old ghosts are becoming quite loud once again. Not only has the pro-life legal team, working on a stay for Terrell, begun to put doubts in Tessa’s mind about the validity of the evidence that convicted him, but her own memory and the voices of the dead girls she bonded with while laying with them in a grave of black-eyed susans have her more convinced than ever that her monster still walks the earth a free man.
This story really grabs you right from the book jacket. It has all the ingredients for an amazing mystery thriller. There is a serial killer, there’s a traumatized survivor, there’s the question of an innocent man behind bars, and the possibility that our survivor is still being hunted. In fact for the first 3/4 of this book I was enthralled with the story. The juxtaposition of adult Tessa awaiting the execution of her “monster” against the backdrop of Tessie the traumatized teenage girl trying to put the pieces of her life back together, created a page turning tale. And although the killer did not turn out to be who I expected it to be, I still feel the story lead us to the discovery of who was behind the Black Eyed Susans’ murders.
*Spoilers Beyond This Point*
The problem I had with the story was really in the last quarter when we switch perspectives from Tessa’s point of you, either as an adult or a child, and are thrust into the point of view of a character that we don’t know other than from Tess’s recollection of her from childhood. In the last part of the book we are thrown into the point of view of Lydia, Tessa’s best friend from childhood and the one who helped her survive the trauma of her attack. This shift was very incongruent with the flow of the story in my experience. And although I enjoyed the very last section where we had a glimpse into the killer’s mind, I felt the storytelling from Lydia’s perspective was a nail on a chalkboard.
Also, while I am not an expert in psychology, I find it very unbelievable that Tessie could spend so many “intimate” hours with the doctor and not connect him to the attack. Even if she truly did not remember the details, something should have felt “off” about him. The desire to connect with him should have felt “wrong”. This is another one of those unclear points in the story.
In addition, towards the end of the story there were several things thrown at us that are never truly resolved. For example, the question of racism being a leading factor in the conviction of Terrell for the attacks is mentioned in two lines of dialogue and then never extrapolated further. We also still never get a full picture of the night Tessa was attacked. While I can piece together what happened based on the scattered memories Tessa had resurfacing throughout the story, what I really want it was the ultimate reveal of what happened that night, either as a memory from Tessa, from the perspective of Tessie as it was happening, or from the point of view of the killer himself.
With so many questions left unanswered, I felt let down by the author, however I believe she was trying to emphasize the point that the psychiatrist Dr. Giles made when discussing the event with Tessa. She tells Tessa that there is no such thing as closure, we never truly get the answers we are seeking. True that the ending of the book did leave me less than excited, with many unanswered questions, the storytelling from the start was excellent and the writing superb, which is why I enjoyed the first 3/4 so much. I would definitely read this author again, in hopes that the unanswered questions from this book we’re done deliberately to make a point.
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