Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When she was sixteeen, young Tessa "Tessie" Cartwright was found, hanging on to life, in a field of Black-Eyed Susans. The other girls "dumped" with Tessa did not survive (in fact, some were just bones), and Tessa is doomed to live her life as the surviving "Black-Eyed Susan" in the press. Justifiably, the event haunts her life and her nightmares. Further, she is tormented by the fact that her testimony about what happened helped put the suspect, Terrell, on death row.
Now, a grown woman and mother, Tessa is working with the Terrell's legal team to exonerate him. This includes a forensic scientist (the forensics in the book are detailed and excellent). Her main reason? It seems wherever she lives, a patch of Black-Eyed-Susans follows, forcing her to live in fear, and to wonder if the sentenced killer truly is guilty. But if he isn't, are Tessa and her daughter safe? Why can't she remember what happened nearly 20 years ago? Tessa fears she is going insane, but also can't live with herself if she doesn't try to find out what happened so long ago.
This was a wonderful book; the subject matter is frightening, but the book itself was a captivating page-turner. The mystery is extremely well-plotted and riveting. Even when I was pretty sure I had things figured out, I was rapidly turning pages, still guessing and eagerly awaiting to find out what had happened to Tessa (and the other "Susans," as she calls them) back then. The book flips between present-day Tessa's point of view and to "Tessie," as a younger Tessa was known, talking about events leading up to and right after Terrell's trial. It's a suspenseful plot device that works well here; I was up late turning pages, desperate to know what happened.
Tessa is a well-formed character, even with her angst and anxieties resulting from her horrific past. Her supporting cast - her daughter, Terrell's lead lawyer, the forensic scientist, a quirky neighbor, her best friend from her youth - are all well-done, too. At times, the book is confusing due to Tessa's unreliable narration; she is suffering from memory loss and anxiety, after all, but it only adds to the book's suspense and intrigue. Perhaps the only thing I can find to complain about is that the ending is a bit too pat: it pops up suddenly to resolve things, but there's still a door left open, and it does nothing to diminish how enjoyable the book and the story is. Overall, an excellent thriller and a worthy read.
This novel was released August 11th, 2015 and should be available to read or download at your favorite location.
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