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Onyx reviews: Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain

In Chelsea Cain's two most recent novels, the Portland weather plays a large part in the tone of the respective story. Whereas everything was soggy because of torrential rains and a flood in The Night Season, in Kill You Twice, the summer is hotter than hot, and no one has an air conditioner. 

And, of course, there's a serial killer at work. This time, the killer is leaving bodies in prominent places, trussed up and desecrated in an almost surgical fashion. He leaves behind no physical evidence, despite the fact he obviously spent a lot of time at the crime scenes torturing his victims. There's no apparent connection between the deceased, but someone claims she knows what's going on.

The time has come in the Archie Sheridan / Gretchen Lowell saga to learn more about the monster. Like Hannibal Lecter, the sociopathic killer must have been created. Gretchen didn't spring forth fully formed. When Archie first met her, she had already killed hundreds of people. What made her that way? Lifting the hood on a formidable character like Gretchen Lowell can be risky. What if the truth is banal or disappointing? Some evil characters are best left with their mysteries.

When the book opens, Gretchen is safely ensconced in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane and completely out of Archie's life. He has resisted her repeated attempts to get in touch with him. He's slowly recovering from the physical and emotional wounds she caused, and he's free of his drug addiction. However, when she implies that she has evidence that can help his current investigation, his curiosity is piqued. When she claims that her (their?) daughter is in jeopardy, he doesn't know what to believe. Is this another of her warped tricks, or could she be telling the truth?

Gretchen has a bone to pick. She doesn't deny that she killed a lot of people, but there's one victim that has been added to her tally that isn't hers, or so she says. Something about Archie's current case makes that incorrectly assigned crime important, and it sends Archie in an unexpected direction.

Gretchen is obsessed with Archie and she seems to want him to get to know her better. To understand her. She's not being helpful for altruistic reasons, or even to clear her name of one of roughly two hundred murders. She's sending him on a treasure hunt where her past is the treasure. It's an interesting approach. Instead a writing a flashback book, like Thomas Harris did with Hannibal Lecter, Cain allows readers to discover Gretchen's origins through the eyes of the person who knows her better than anyone else: Archie. She also wisely doesn't reveal everything. Archie now has a snapshot of a certain period in Gretchen's development, but there remains much to learn about her.

Susan Ward, now a freelance journalist after losing her job at the newspaper, plays an important role in driving Gretchen's story forward. Eager for a major scoop to relaunch her career, she interviews Gretchen, learning important details about her past crimes. She also discovers clues that have been literally sitting under Archie's nose for months. Though there is an obvious generation gap, Archie and Susan have been through a lot together and they have a strong mutual attraction, but Gretchen stands between them and perhaps always will. If Susan's smart, and she seems to be, she'll find someone less damaged.

This series has always had a strong Silence of the Lambs vibe, and Kill You Twice is no exception. The concept of a former protégé of the serial killer coming into his or her own, and the former mentor using his or her intimate knowledge of the killer to seduce the lead investigator has strong parallels with Harris's breakout novel. However, Gretchen Lowell is a different kind of killer. In some ways, she's more human than Lecter while in others she remains more of an enigma. A serial killer who once looked like a beauty queen, though her anti-psychotic medication has taken a toll on her looks of late. She is a strong presence on the page, but everything seems to be on the surface. It's very difficult to fathom what's going on inside that twisted mind, or why she has made it her personal mission to antagonize Archie.

Of course, the same could be said about Archie's psyche, in that he remains obsessed with the woman who performed surgery on him and left a heart-shaped scar on his chest. Given the way the book ends, it's obvious that Archie will have no choice in the matter in the near future. Gretchen will remain his primary focus for a while.

Kudos to Cain, too, for providing one very effective red herring clue that persists throughout the book. Crime novel aficionados are sure to take the bait.

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