Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
When Tessa Cartwright was 16-years old she was found, barely alive, nearly completely buried -- along with a smattering of bones and the body of a dead teenager in an abandoned field in Texas. In response to the trauma, she has undergone tons of therapy, suffered a conversion reaction (hysterical blindness), and has lost all of her memories of the event. The case went to trial and the man found guilty, Terrell Darcy Goodman, was given the death penalty. Throughout the long ordeal leading up to the court sessions, Tessa's best friend, Lydia, was there by her side for support and encouragement when all of Tessa's other friends deserted her when the sensational story of the "Black -Eyed Susans" hit the papers. The victims were named this because those flowers were covering the hastily dug burial site.
Now, it's 18 years later and Terrell is about to be executed when a lawyer shows up on Tessa's doorstep with an idea that perhaps they have the wrong man. It seems that various forensics experts have taken an intense interest in the case when the bones are examined more closely with the new technology of DNA identification. It seems there were 3 different incomplete sets of bones in the grave with Tessa and the dead girl, Merry. The scientists set about the process of trying to identify the "Susans" as Tessa is forced to try to recall her missing memories. She was never able to identify Terrell as the perpetrator and is hesitant to get involved even as new evidence comes to light.
The narrative shifts back and forth in time from 1995 to present day as Tessa relives the ordeal, her therapy, the interactions with Lydia, and as she tries to work with the attorneys and forensics experts to save Terrell from execution. She is a single mother with a teenaged daughter, Charlie, and is longing to put the whole thing behind her but becomes alarmed when she starts to find little patches of Black-eyed Susans planted in some of her old hangouts. She is convinced that the wrong man is in prison and that the kidnapper is taunting her with these flowers.
Rather than say anymore to spoil the twists or to make it easier to identify the red herrings, I'll say that the story was a fast-paced read that kept me glued to the pages -- so much so that I had to finish it in one sitting. At points the time jumps were jarring and it's important to note the dates at the beginning of the chapters in order not to be confused. When I finished, I actually went back through some of the sections of the book and reread certain parts to see if there were clues I had missed but the author is very careful to give only vague hints and so shall I. The climax (the ID of the killer) is a bit unexpected, and there were a few loose ends that never were answered to my satisfaction, but overall, I enjoyed the book.
The best part of this was the forensic science -- dealing with DNA, bones, and geology (chemical markers), that allowed the "Susans" to be identified and their families notified. It's obvious that the author did a lot of consulting with the experts and I really love that fact accuracy in my fiction. With the popularity of shows on TV such as "Bones" and the books of Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, I believe there will be a very enthusiastic audience for this novel.
Thank you to Amazon Vine and to NetGalley for the e-book ARC to review.