Book Review, Jackie K Cooper
Chelsea Cain is a writer who knows no fear. She manages to break all the rules of mystery writing by being as gruesome and gory as possible. You would think this style would turn off readers and repel them. You would be wrong. It attracts them. This is because Cain may be overly gruesome, but she is also a truly terrific writer. Her latest novel Evil at Heart is a prime example of that fact.
Evil at Heart is the third in a series of novels that focuses on a female serial killer and the detective who desires and hunts her. As this book starts Archie Sheridan is voluntarily in a mental ward. This is a result of his involvement with Gretchen Lowell, a woman who has killed many people and who kidnapped and brutalized Archie.
After a lull, suddenly there are new murders popping up in the Portland, Oregon area. This is the place where Gretchen was last seen, and the place where Archie lives and works. The murders appear to have the signature of Gretchen's work but Archie can not believe it is her. When they had last seen each other she had promised to stop her killing spree if he would not kill himself. Because of the nature of Archie's bizarre relationship with her, he believes her.
Archie's best friend, Detective Henry Sobol, tells him not to get involved again in the search for Gretchen but Archie knows he is the only one who can possibly locate her. With the help of reporter Susan Ward he enters into the chase again knowing that this time may be the time his search for Gretchen gets him killed. He is more than willing to accept that fate.
Cain knows these characters inside and out, as well she should. She has peopled her first two novels with them and popular demand has caused them to come back one more time. Gretchen Lowell is unique in the stories about serial killers as she is one of the few females of this type to be created for fiction. When she first appeared in Cain's Sweetheart readers were shocked. Still, after they recovered they could not get enough of her and of her relationship with Archie.
This fascination with a killer permeates the pages of Evil at Heart. Cain shows how the media can build up a killer into a romantic figure and how the general public can become obsessed even though the person who is becoming the idol is completely barren of moral character. In Evil at Heart people don't just want to see and hear about Gretchen, they want to be Gretchen.
Few writers could take a subject matter this grotesque and describe it in such graphic terms while still keeping the general reading public interested. Chelsea Cain can. She is so adept at telling the story of Archie and Gretchen that she makes you accept them as they are, giant warts and all. You are repulsed but you are also fascinated.
Chelsea Cain writes Evil at Heart as a stand alone novel. However for the full impact of her story and her characters you should read all three novels. Start with Sweetheart, then Heartsick, and finally Evil at Heart for the best enjoyment and understanding of the stories.
If you want a book that is decidedly different, then Evil at Heart should be your number one choice. It is gruesome, gory, terrifying and repugnant; but it is also a story you will not be able to put down.
Evil at Heart is published by Minotaur Books. It contains 320 pages and sells for $24.99.
Jackie K. Cooper