Title: Black-Eyed Susans
Author: Julia Heaberlin
Release Date: August 26, 2015
“Seventeen-year-old Tessa, dubbed a ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ by the media, became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer. Her testimony helped to put a dangerous criminal behind bars – or so she thought.
Now, decades later the black-eyed susans planted outside Tessa’s bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison.
Haunted by fragmented memories of the night she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter’s safety, can Tessa uncover the truth about the killer before it’s too late?” (penguin.com.au)
In the past, I’ve not read a lot of novels that could be considered ‘thrillers’. But my reading has branched out recently and it’s now a genre I’ve been reading more of, and a genre that I actually enjoy – especially those that are more psychological than stabby. So when Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans popped up on the NetGalley homepage, I thought I’d give it a try despite not being blown away by the description. As it turns out, I’m glad I requested it as it ended up being a lot better than I was anticipating.
Through a narrative that shifts between Tessa (or ‘Tessie’ as she is known) as a seventeen-year-old in the months directly following her brush with death, and Tessa as a grown woman with a daughter of her own, Black-Eyed Susans explores the psychological scars left by an event – both in the immediate aftermath and and in the years following.
I think in the context of this novel, the moving back and forth between past and present really works. Not only does it increase the suspense as the mystery gradually unfolds, but it also helps to understand the main character better. Despite the trauma of the event, seventeen-year-old Tessie is almost in a better state of mind than Tessa at thirty-five. In this respect it was interesting to see how the mind of the victim never really heals and, as is the case with Tessa, if pushed in the right direction can lead them to questioning their own sanity.
It was also interesting to think about how the senses link to memory, which isn’t something I’ve really thought about a lot, but reminded me of how weird the human brain is sometimes, and also how difficult must be for victims of to have something seemingly innocuous act as a memory trigger for the rest of their lives. In Tessa’s case she has two: the scent of peanut butter, and of course the flower, black-eyed susans. I found the use of the flowers as a trigger particularly disturbing. The idea that something so beautiful and delicate could be representative of something so beautiful is a strange contrast. I particularly liked this way to describe them:
“She thrust out the handful of black-eyed Susans that she was strangling in her sweaty fist. Behind her, a hundred yards away, their sisters danced in flouncy yellow skirts – pretty little bullies hanging out near a row of sickly beans and a bonsai-like fig tree.”
Heaberlin also touches on the subject of the death sentence. This is obviously a controversial topic and while my views on it aren’t relevant to this post, I can say that the book got me considering more aspects of the subject than I had in the past. So get ready to have your thoughts provoked if you read the book!
Overall, this was amazing to read. And if you can guess who the killer is before it’s revealed in the book, then you’re a better detective than me. It had me guessing right up to the final chapters and as I got closer to the end. the anticipation of solving everything was nearly killing me. If you like thrillers then definitely give this one a go – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – OK, I haven’t read the book but it sort of reminded me of ‘Kiss the Girls’ – that movie starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. So if you liked that movie, you’ll probably like this book (and if anyone has read Kiss the Girls, what’s it like?)
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – I wouldn’t say that any of the characters were more likeable than the others, but I kind of liked Lydia – Tessa’s friend who we meet in the flashbacks to her teenage years. However, without giving too much away, I am really conflicted about my liking of her.
FAVOURITE QUOTE – “The doctor had taught me in our sessions that I could have waited five years to sleep with this man, and never really known him. The doc was speaking generally, of course. He believed that a person’s most profound flaws of virtues emerge in great crisis, or they remain buried forever. I remember leaving his office that day thinking it was sad that ordinary, dull people die all the time without ever knowing they are heroes. All because a girl didn’t go under in the lake right in front of them, or a neighbor’s house didn’t catch fire.”