BLACK-EYED SUSANS by Julia Heaberlin

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Released: August 11, 2015
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★

I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

There are a ton of rave reviews for this book, so I guess I’m the oddball. The premise of BLACK-EYED SUSANS sounded amazing, but the suspense was lacking. The story is told by Tessa, the only survivor of a serial killer. Someone was convicted of the crime two decades ago, but is the right person on death row? Evidence to the contrary has surfaced, and Tessa fears the real murderer may be lying in wait, while an innocent person may die for the crimes. This book was heavy on forensics, DNA, and such, and it’s clear the author did her research.

The narrative alternates between present-day Tessa and teenage Tessa in the months following the crime. Sometimes the dual-time periods work well for a story, but in this case it seemed to hinder the suspenseful build up. Maybe the sections ended too abruptly? Past Tessa was the more interesting of the two, though to me she came off as insolent, and I don’t know where that came from.

BLACK-EYED SUSANS was an okay read for me. I think the forensics and trial proceedings took away from the suspense and potential creepiness, but readers into crime fiction may enjoy those parts. The story wrapped up with a satisfying ending, though I can’t say for sure what actually happened to Tessa when she was in the hands of the killer.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.