Onyx reviews: Sweetheart by
It was inevitable that the relationship between serial killer Gretchen Lowell
and detective Archie Sheridan would draw comparisons to the perverse rapport
between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. It might even have been
However, Chelsea Cain takes what seemed to be simply twisted and mildly
derivative in her fast-paced debut novel Heartbreak and turns it into
something all her own.
Gretchen is the classic sociopath, the kind of person mostly found in crime
novels and movies. She is beautiful, resourceful, intelligent, crafty—and
absolutely without any trace of connection to the human race. She killed
for years, racking up hundreds of victims. She didn't care who she killed, and
often seduced men into doing her dirty work for her. She tortured her victims
for days or weeks before executing them.
Archie Sheridan was a rookie when he was assigned to a murder case that
turned out to be the first one attributed to Gretchen. He spent years working on
the task force organized to track her down and almost ended up becoming her final
victim. He bears scars from her scalpel, he's light one spleen, and suffers
chronic pain from her torture, which included force-feeding him drain cleaner.
He pops vicodin at a rate that makes Dr. House look like a recreational user.
Painkillers aren't his only addiction—he has an obsessive relationship with
his torturer. Until recently, he made weekly trips to the prison to
visit Gretchen, getting her to admit to numerous open murder cases one at a
time. She's Scheherazade, stringing him along, prolonging the pain she
inflicted. Archie's marriage cratered—though he's still sleeping on his ex-wife's
couch. He's not going to the prison any more, but he's still a mess.
Then along comes another serial killer case—three bodies found in a Portland
park. One of them is fresh, the other two date back a couple of years. All three
are unidentified, and there's not much interest in investigating the crimes because the victims are likely prostitutes and drug users. When a well-loved
U.S. Senator dies in a car accident, the murders are quickly bumped from the
front page of the newspapers, too.
As is the story Susan Ward was working on—the one that would have destroyed
Senator Castle's reputation and career. There is a lot of political pressure on
her editors to quash the story, but Susan had the goods on the Senator—testimony
from the woman who was fourteen when he slept with her a decade ago. However, her source has
fallen quiet and the outpouring of grief at Castle's demise make the
timing poor for an exposť. Susan, who followed Archie Sheridan on his previous
murder investigation, is determined that the truth should be told, especially
when her mentor, Quentin Parker, is blamed for the car accident that
killed him and Castle.
Sweetheart is a brilliantly woven tapestry of seemingly unrelated plots that
merge together in surprising ways. Readers learn much more about Archie's
relationship with Gretchen, who had insinuated herself into the task force as a
Gretchen can't stand being ignored, so she manipulates Archie into visiting
her again and then orchestrates an escape from her maximum-security prison cell
that requires the tacit collaboration of several of her guards. Gretchen sets
her sights on Archie, planning to get at him through his family and friends.
It's hard to
conceive of a person who is simultaneously as ruthless and as seductive as she
is, but it's easy to suspend disbelief in a book filled with colorful
characters, like Susan and her hippie mother, and non-stop action that includes
a political cover-up and a
Pacific forest fire.
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