Friday, January 22, 2010

Reading Journal: Gretchen Lowell, serial killer

After an inspiring post by Heather from Tales of a Capricious Reader, I ordered the first two books in the Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain: Heartsick and Sweetheart. Luckily, I received them really quickly. Once I picked them up I couldn't put them down!



Heartsick is an interesting book because, although you know that the series revolves around the serial killer Gretchen Lowell, capturing her is not the plot of the book. At the start of Heartsick, Gretchen is in jail. The criminal that Archie Sheridan is trying to catch has been abducting young girls and murdering them. Interwoven into this plot line are flashbacks to the circumstances surrounding Gretchen's capture and torture of Archie. There is also another plot line based on the reporter Susan Ward, who has been brought in by the police department to profile Archie Sheridan.

The flashback plot line is the most compelling part of the book and, in my opinion, overshadows the present-time detective work. Gretchen Lowell's torture of Archie and his inability to break away from her is psychologically compelling. The present-day killer is just no comparison. And while I found Susan's character to be interesting--a extra-lite Lisbeth Salander type (if Salander were concerned about morality)--in the end, her involvement seemed too coincidental. It really pushed the boundary of what I was willing to accept.

Despite these things, I really enjoyed the book. It was a quick read but well-paced, and left me wanting more. So (after a small detour into Icelandic crime fiction, which I'll write about later) I picked up the next book in the series: Sweetheart.

Again, there were multiple plot lines--Gretchen Lowell's escape and Senator Castle's affair and cover-up. And again, Gretchen's plot line was better developed and more compelling. Cain only hits the surface of Archie's suffering--and this is my biggest problem with these books. Whereas, they are thrilling and I want to know badly what will unfold, Cain doesn't manage to delve deeply into either the psyche of Archie or Gretchen. It's all surfaces. This is a shame, because she has really begun the creation of two very psychologically interesting characters--and a very, very messed up relationship.

Cain also skirts the journalist-exploitation issue. She makes Susan conscious of it, but Susuan just sets the issue aside--she never faces it head on. She reassures herself and continues on without truly tackling the issue. Nor does Cain give us any indication of what Susan's stories are like once written. At the very least we could be allowed to judge Susan's skils for ourselves.

The end was somewhat more satisfying than that of Heartsick. **SPOILER ALERT** Her escape was too easy. Thoughts from other readers are very welcome. She and Archie came to an interesting agreement at the end--it will be interesting to see what happens as the catalyst for the next installment. Also, the Buddy-as-bad-guy reveal was rather coincidental--a problem I had with the first book as well.

Heartsick:
***3 out of 5**
3/50 Novels
3/130 Total read

Sweetheart:
***3 out of 5***
5/50 Novels
5/130 Total read

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