Onyx reviews: Kill You
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
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
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
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.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2012. All rights reserved.