Chelsea Cain’s follow-up to her “Heartsick” reunites readers with Susan Ward, Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell for a fast-paced story that works better if you just switch off your disbelief and just go with the story.
Picking up a few months after the end of “Heartsick,” Archie has stopped visiting Gretchen, but remains obsessed with her. He’s in the midst of trying to solve a case involving a body in a local park. Susan is hot on the trail of a story involving a local Senator who had an affair with the-then fourteen year old family babysitter. Just as her story is about to hit print, the Senator is killed along with a fellow journalist and her source has disappeared.
Freed of the need to introduce us to the world and characters of Archie and Susan, “Sweetheart” is able to dive into the story and never let up. The twists and turns come at a fast pace, keeping the pages turning. Eventually, all roads lead back to Gretchen Lowell and Archie’s strange obsession with her. Cain provides a few more clues about the nature of their relationship and delves into what makes Archie tick.
The interesting thing about “Sweetheart” is that it’s a story full of anti-heroes. Lowell is a killer, but she’s a compelling and fascinating one. Archie is driven to self-destruction and is so absorbed in his own issues he can’t or won’t change to save himself or his family. And then there’s Susan, who is secretly in love with Archie and trying to pursue the big story, despite who it may hurt or the consequences. These are real people, drawn well and while we shouldn’t like any of them, we still find ourselves intrigued by them. Cain does a great job of allowing their motivations to be understood and while we may not always agree, their actions make sense based on clues provided early in the story.
And Cain does know how to tell a great story. I’ll admit I wasn’t as thrilled with “Sweetheart” as many others were, but this one had me hooked from the first page. A sequence in the middle of the book when Gretchen escapes and is potentially holding Archie’s children at school had me breathlessly turning pages, wondering what twist would happen next.
Like I said, the story does require some huge leaps from the reader, especially as things progress toward the novel’s conclusion. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief at the door, you’ll find a suspenseful ride.