There should be small wonder why an inveterate watcher like Chuck Palahniuk should call Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell "the most compelling, most original serial killer since Hannibal Lecter." Mass murderers don't generally act, of course, like normal human beings. But Gretchen Lowell goes a step further: She doesn't even behave like other serial killers. For example, she turned herself in; not a common strategy for a ghoul, one might say. And before that, she did something equally strange. She captured and tortured Archie Sheridan, the Portland detective who had been tracking her for ten years. But she didn't kill him; in fact, she freed him. And now Archie has real problems, and he visits her every week in prison...
One of the challenges for the thriller writer who takes on the catch-the-serial-killer subgenre is the ever escalating ante, one author’s diabolically perverse criminal demanding the next's invention of a murderer just that much more diabolical and perverse. In Gretchen Lowell, Cain has created a femme fatale with an appetite for cruelty that will be difficult to surpass…Heartsick is a dizzying novel. Lurid and suspenseful with well-drawn characters, plenty of grisly surprises and tart dialogue, it delivers what readers of this particular kind of thriller expect.
The New York Times
The setup may be familiar, but Cain's greatest accomplishment is creating a hybridmarrying the explicit content of splatter cinema to the conventions of an airport novel. Three things distinguish Heartsick: some sharp writing, a great locale (drizzly Portland is a sullen, noirish, minor-key backdrop), and the third main character, young reporter Susan Ward.
The Washington Post
McCormick delivers an uneven performance in her reading of Cain's bestselling debut thriller. Gretchen Lowell, "The Beauty Killer," was one of the most prolific serial killers in history, claiming over 200 lives. Her only surviving victim was Archie Sheridan, the lead detective on the task force set up to apprehend her. Archie was tortured for days until Lowell inexplicably turned herself in. Two years later Archie is still a victim, on leave from the force, estranged from his family, addicted to pain pills and obsessively visiting Gretchen weekly. When a new killer begins murdering teenage girls, Archie is called back into action. By his side is an ambitious, pink-haired news reporter who may become her own page-one headline. The usually reliable McCormick has a rocky start with the first few chapters. Her clipped, overarticulation of each line keeps listeners at a distance instead of immersing them in the mesmerizing events taking place. However, she does improve as the story moves forward, and her rich, throaty portrayal of Gretchen Lowell is the perfect blend of predator and seductress. Simultaneous release with the St. Martin's Minotaur hardcover (Reviews, July 16). (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Portland, OR, never felt drearier than it does in this thriller debut. Without a doubt, psychopathic Gretchen Lowell, a convicted serial killer, pulls all the strings from her prison cell. Just consider her current exploitation list: Archie Sheridan, the Vicodin-addicted detective whom she kidnapped and almost killed two years earlier; Susan Ward, the spunky, young newspaper features writer who's attempting to profile Sheridan; and, finally, the current serial killer, who is targeting high school girls and putting the entire city in lockdown mode. Using flashbacks and psychological tension, Cain (Confessions of a Teen Sleuth) has crafted a gory suspense piece that is absolutely impossible to put down. Sheridan's current case, a hurried analysis of local high school suspects, is almost secondary to the horror of Lowell's personality. Sheridan's suffering makes him an empathetic hero, and Susan's foolish mistakes give the novel its requisite twists. Readers may figure out the "new" killer's identity early on, but Cain never lets up on the pace. Stylistically, this is great stuff for true-crime readers and for those who enjoy Jan Burke's Irene Kelly series. Recommended for all popular collections; expect a series. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ5/1/07; a 200,000 first printing.]
Teresa L. Jacobsen
A detective, emotionally damaged after his own kidnapping, pursues a serial killer of young girls in Portland, Ore. Two years ago, homicide detective Archie Sheridan was kidnapped while tracking beautiful but treacherously demented serial killer Gretchen Lowell. After torturing Archie for days, Gretchen eventually saved his physical life by calling 911 and turning herself in, but Archie's existence has been fundamentally ruined. Separated from his wife, he is addicted to various prescription painkillers and remains on disability from his work as a homicide detective. Every Sunday Archie visits Gretchen in prison, ostensibly because he is the only one to whom she'll disclose the locations of her 200 (!) murder victims. In fact, he is addicted to her control over him. Despite Archie's fragile emotional state, when someone starts murdering 14-year-old girls, the police department asks him to take charge of the case. As the cop who survived a kidnapping, Archie has become a celebrity, and the local paper arranges for a young reporter, Susan Ward, to profile him as he works the new case. Susan does not realize that Archie is manipulating her. He hopes her revealing articles about him spurs Gretchen, who has recently gone silent, to offer up the whereabouts of more bodies. Susan finds easy access to interviews with Archie's ex-wife Debbie, who turns out to be a sophisticated artist, his doctor, who describes Archie's torture as unimaginably cruel, and even Gretchen, who is frighteningly on target about Susan's own ghosts. Susan's father died when she was 14. As a freshman at Cleveland High, where one of the recent victims attended school, she may or may not have had an inappropriate sexualrelationship with her drama teacher. Archie realizes almost too late that Gretchen has actually been setting her own trap, and Susan is the intended victim. Despite obvious red herrings, Cain (Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, 2005) creates a cleverly contorted thriller plot and characters with memorable personalities.
From the Publisher
“Heartsick has it all: a tortured cop, a fearless and quirky heroine, and what may be the creepiest serial killer ever created. This is an addictive read!” Tess Gerritsen
“With Gretchen Lowell, Chelsea Cain gives us the most compelling, most original serial killer since Hannibal Lecter.” Chuck Palahniuk
“Chelsea Cain’s novel is completely entrancing and totally original---what a read. Between the humanity of Portland cop Archie Sheridan and the chilling and twisted design of his beautiful nemesis, Gretchen Lowell, Heartsick is utterly unforgettable. Cain is a wonderful---and terrifying---storyteller” Dominick Dunne
Read an Excerpt
Archie doesn’t know for sure that it’s her until that moment. There is a dull bloom of warmth in his spine, his vision blurs, and then he knows that Gretchen Lowell is the killer. He realizes that he has been drugged, but it is too late. He fumbles for his gun, but he is ham-fisted and can only lift it awkwardly from his belt clip and hold it out as if it were a gift to her. She takes it and smiles, kissing him gently on the forehead. Then she reaches into his coat and takes the cell phone, turning it off and slipping it into her purse. He is almost paralyzed now, slumped in the leather chair in her home office. But his mind is a prison of clarity. She kneels down next to him, the way one might a child, and puts her lips so close to his that they are almost kissing. His pulse throbs in his throat. He can’t swallow. She smells like lilacs.
“It’s time to go, darling,” she whispers. She stands then, and he is lifted from behind, elbows under his armpits. A man in front of him, red-faced and heavy, takes his legs, and he is carried into the garage and laid in the back of the green Voyager—the vehicle Archie and his task force have spent months looking for—and she crawls in on top of him. He realizes then that there is someone else in the van, that she wasn’t the one behind him, but he doesn’t have time to process this because she is straddling his torso, a knee pressing on either side of his waist. He cannot move his eyes anymore, so she narrates for his benefit.
“I’m rolling up your right sleeve. I’m tying off a vein.” Then she holds up a hypodermic in his sight line. Medical training, he thinks. Eighteen percent of female serial killers are nurses. He is staring at the ceiling of the van. Gray metal. Stay awake, he thinks. Remember everything, every detail; it will be important. He thinks, If I live.
“I’m going to let you rest for a little while.” She smiles and puts her flat, pretty face in front of his so he can see her, her blond hair brushing his cheek, though he cannot feel it. “We’ll have plenty of time for fun later.”
He cannot respond, cannot even blink now. His breath comes in long, shallow rasps. He cannot see her push the needle in his arm, but he assumes she has, because then there is only darkness.
He wakes up on his back. He is still groggy, and it takes him a moment to realize that the red-faced man is standing over him. In this moment, the very first moment of Archie’s awareness, the man’s head explodes. Archie jerks as the man’s blood and brain matter blow forward, splattering Archie’s face and chest, a vomit of warm, clotted fluid. He tries to move, but his hands and feet are bound to a table. He feels a piece of something hot slide down his face and slop onto the floor, and he pulls hard against the bindings until his skin breaks, but he cannot budge them. He gags, but his mouth is taped shut, forcing the bile back into his throat, making him gag again. His eyes burn. Then he sees her, standing behind where the man’s body has fallen, holding the gun she has just used to execute him.
“I wanted you to understand right away how committed I am to you,” she says. “That you are the only one.” And then she turns and walks away.
He is left then to contemplate what has just happened. He swallows hard, willing himself to remain calm, to look around. He is alone. The man is dead on the floor. Gretchen is gone. The driver of the van is gone. Archie’s blood is pulsing so violently that it is the only sensation. Time passes. At first, he thinks he is in an operating room. It is a large space, walled with white ceramic subway tiles and well lit by fluorescent lights. He turns his head from side to side and sees several trays of instruments, medical-looking machinery, a drain on the cement floor. He strains again at his binds and realizes that he is strapped to a gurney. Tubes are coming in and out of him: a catheter, an IV. There are no windows in the room and a faint earthy smell skirts the edge of his consciousness. Mildew. A basement.
He starts to think like a cop now. The others had been tortured for a couple of days before she dumped the bodies. That meant that he had time. Two days. Maybe three. They could find him in that amount of time. He had told Henry where he was going, that he had a psych consult about the newest body. He had wanted to see her, to get her advice. He was not prepared for this. But they would connect it. Henry would connect it. It would be the last place to which he could be traced. He had made a call to his wife on the way. That would be the last point of contact. How much time had passed since he had been taken?
She is there again. On the other side of the table from where the body still lies, thick, dark blood seeping onto the gray floor. He remembers when she had first introduced herself—the psychiatrist who had given up her practice to write a book. She had read about the task force and had called him to see if she could help. It had been hell on all of them. She offered to come in. Not counseling, she had said. Just talk. They had been working on the case for almost ten years. Twenty-three bodies in three states. It had taken a toll. She invited those who were interested to come to a group session. Just talk. He had been surprised at how many of the detectives had shown. It might have had something to do with the fact that she was beautiful. The funny thing was, it had helped. She was very good.
She pulls the white sheet covering him down so that his chest is exposed, and he realizes that he’s naked. There is no self-consciousness attached to it. It is merely a fact. She places a hand flat on his breastbone. He knows what this means. He has memorized the crime photos, the abrasions and burns on the torsos. It is part of the profile, one of her signatures.
“Do you know what comes next?” she asks, knowing that he does.
He needs to talk to her. To stall. He makes a garbled noise through the duct tape and motions with his head for her to take it off. She touches her finger to his lips and shakes her head. “Not just yet,” she says softly.
She asks it again. A little more harshly. “Do you know what comes next?”
She smiles, satisfied. “That’s why I prepared something special for you, darling.” She has an instrument tray beside her and she turns and withdraws something from it. A hammer and nail. Interesting, he thinks, amazed at his ability to detach from himself, to remain clinical. So far the victims had been seemingly random, male, female, young, old, but the torso damage, though it had evolved, had been notably consistent. She had never used nails before.
She seems pleased. “I thought you’d appreciate some variety.” She lets her fingertips dance up his rib cage until she finds the rib she is looking for and then she places the point of the nail against his skin and comes down hard with the hammer. He feels the explosion of his rib breaking and gags again. His chest burns with pain. He fights to breathe. His eyes water. She wipes a tear from his flushed cheek and caresses his hair, and then she finds another rib and repeats the process. And another. When she is done, she has broken six of his ribs. The nail is wet with blood. She lets it drop with an innocuous clink back on the instrument tray. He can’t shift his body even a millimeter without a searing pain, like none he has ever felt. His nasal passages have clogged with mucus, he can’t breathe through his mouth, he has to brace himself for agony with every lung expansion, and still he can’t make himself breathe shallowly, can’t slow the panicked, heavy pants that sound like sobs. Maybe two days was optimistic, he thinks. Maybe he would just die now.
Copyright © 2007 by Verite, Inc. All rights reserved.