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 is a creepy, intriguing read which has had a lot of hype, so I was excited to finally read it and see if it’s as good as I expected.
It was a fairly simple book in many ways; the narrative is quite straight forwarded, focussing on Tessie who was a victim of a serial killer in 1995- but he didn’t kill her, she made it out alive- but with memory loss. It’s not hugely fast moving because it keeps returning to the past and we already loosely know the outcome of what happened in court because we have seen the results in the present day narrative. However, the story doesn’t need to be hugely fast-moving with action in every scene because Julia Heaberlin creates a great atmosphere and air of mystery throughout. Plus as the present day narrative continues Tessie learns more and more about what really happened to her.
The novel can be a little confusing at points because it goes back in time to 1995 when it all actualy happened, and to the court case surrounding it, but then returns to the present day with Tessie wondering what happened to her friend Lydia, who exactly the other victims were, and, of course, who the killer really was. Someone’s serving time on death row for it, but is it the right person? The chapters are clearly marked though with the dates, so you just need to make sure you notice what time period you’re in- not too tricky really!
The writing is easy to read and avoids being too cliché, though the author does use a lot of metaphors and similes. The story really drew me in; I loved the way it slowly revealed more and more, with a few surprises thrown in along the way, and didn’t at all rely on violence to keep the reader hooked. In fact, there’s very little described violence- some is inferred, but it builds suspense rather than gore.
I really enjoy reading books about serial killers- real life or fiction, I love them!– because they just intrigue me so much. This novel doesn’t reveal much about the serial killer until right near the end when you find out who it is. Because of this, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding what happened and why, and this kept me gripped.
I’d recommend this book to fans of this genre as it’s got a great storyline and I felt it was pretty original too, unlike some other novels springing up in this genre!