Review: Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

black-eyed susansI 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.

Rating: 3.5

And so my crime (reading) spree continues with Black-Eyed Susans, which was all over my Goodreads feed at earlier this year. It was an entertaining read, and there’s no doubt the author has a very easy, approachable style. However, I found the back and forth from the past to present in alternate chapters quite jarring, because you’d be in the middle of the action or a cliffhanger and then suddenly have to put on the brakes – incredibly frustrating!

The forensic angle of the book is fascinating. Biology and, more specifically, genetics, were a great interest of mine at school, and the book explains the technical aspects in a simple way for the reader to understand. If you loved the science stuff in Bones, then you’ll enjoy the forensic process incorporated here.

There were a few things that bothered me, however. Firstly, you don’t get any insight into the motivations or personality of the perpetrator, which is generally a staple of the crime genre. Same with our narrator’s mysterious best friend – we never find out why certain characters do what they do. Which leaves everything feeling rather abrupt and unfinished.

The book also doesn’t go in-depth enough into any of the issues it includes – for example, the false accusation of a black man for the crime due to racial bias in  he system. To be honest, it doesn’t even say that much about the death penalty, which is what one would consider to be a hot topic. Or even a commentary on the notions of good therapists versus bad ones. All these meaty topics are brought up, but left unexplored.

We never find out what actually happened to the narrator when she was abducted – for me, while I have a voyeuristic interest in the details, I don’t think we need to know them. Indeed, I think it’s an interesting stylistic choice to leave them out.

All narrators are unreliable, to a certain extent, but Black-Eyed Susans continues the latest trend of extremely unreliable narrators, in this case, due to traumatic amnesia. While she makes some mistakes in her past, overall our MC, Tess, is a sympathetic character, one who has worked hard to overcome the notoriety of her past.


2 thoughts on “Review: Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

  1. Yep, yours – sadly – isn’t the first trusted review that touches upon the uninspired back-and-forth between the two timelines. It’s funny, I just saw this on sale at the bookstore just the other day, and I almost got it. Still undecided though…


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