There’s nothing better than jumping into a chilling psychological thriller when engulfed by a sweltering week-long summer heatwave. With the air-con blasting on high, I was quickly engrossed in Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans.
The tension kicks in from the start and from there it escalates relentlessly with clever plot twists and minimal clues. Sixteen-year-old Tessie Cartwright is missing 32 hours of her life after having been kidnapped and left for dead in a shallow grave with another dead body and an assortment of bones from earlier victims. Tessie’s makeshift grave was covered with yellow flowers, Black-Eyed Susans, and the girls in the grave are soon nicknamed after the flowers, by the press.
Fast-forward 20 years and Tessa (as she’s known in adulthood) is a single mother and artist who has attempted to move on from her traumatic abduction, but someone won’t let her rest. She wakes one winter morning to a patch of freshly planted Black-Eyed Susans underneath her window. Someone is toying with her, taunting her, but it can’t be the perpetrator because he was convicted and sent to jail. Or was he? Is the wrong man in jail, now on death row? Tessa is terrified that the real killer is stalking her, worse, stalking her daughter. The walls that she built to protect herself from her abduction and attempted murder begin to crumble; her sanity and her life are on the line. Again. There is a race against time – to save an innocent man from being killed for a murder he didn’t commit, and to save Tessa’s daughter from the twisted serial killer who haunts and taunts her.
This is a gem of a book and the story is multi-layered, complex and compelling. Told by both Tessie and Tessa, alternating from past to present, there is a slow revealing of events – the teenager who struggles to cope and her subsequent sessions with a therapist, and the woman who has moved on to make a new life for herself, despite her fragile mental state. There’s a good peppering of suspicious characters to keep you guessing who the nasty serial killer is, and the motivations behind it all.
The story is driven by facts and misplaced leads, and Julia Heaberlin shows exemplary skill in knowing just where and when to place a crumb of evidence, to lead the story onwards, and when to create a diversion or false lead that goes nowhere. Black-Eyed Susans is an exhilarating thriller built on masterful writing and expertly handled plot development. If you’re a thriller fan, then you simply must add for this book to your reading list.
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (Penguin 2015)
Julia Heaberlin is the author of three thrillers and you can find out more about her other titles at her website: juliaheaberlin.com