Saturday, July 5, 2008

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

When I read the rave promos for Heartsick and realised that the book was written by a fellow Portlander, I naturally rushed off and looked for a copy of the book on the shelves. A book set where I live and all about the hunt for a serial killer? I had to read it at once! The very first page was promising and I happily settled down to enjoy the novel. Alas, the book did not live up to it's first page, and I was left feeling completely short-changed.

When another teenage girl turns up missing, Detective Archie Sheridan finds himself once again heading the task force to hunt a serial killer. The last time he had been involved in such a hunt, it had been for the Beauty Killer, Gretchen Lowell, and Sheridan had ended becoming one of Lowell's victims. And even though Sheridan has survived that ordeal and Lowell is currently serving time for her crimes, the experience has left him psychologically scarred, estranged from his family, addicted to painkillers, and, inexplicably, tied emotionally to Lowell. Will things be different this time? Will Sheridan be able to cope with the pressures of supervising the task force? Or will his obsession with Gretchen Lowell take up all his care and attention?

A good thriller needs a few key ingredients: a good and compelling plot, an enigmatic killer that captures the attention even as (s)he repels, and a central character -- usually the detective who is trying to stop the killer before (s)he kills again -- that is charismatic and engaging. Unfortunately, Heartsick lacked all of the above. The central plot -- the hunt for the killer who is kidnapping and murdering these teenage girls, gets lost between the subplots involving Sheridan's obsession with Lowell, and the one involving the other central character, reporter Susan Ward's, search for a good story. It almost felt as if the hunt for the current serial killer was a bit of an afterthought. Also, I didn't really find any of the characters all that engaging or compelling. This second point, I'll concede as a matter of personal taste and that other readers may not have the same reservations as I had. Most damning of all, thought, was that I didn't find Heartsick to be a very suspenseful read. I actually read the book over three days, and I don't usually take so long to read thrillers! There just was no tension, no "the-edge-of-your-seat" feeling. And what is a thriller without a few chills?

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