Heart Sick, Chelsea Cain (review & giveaway)

Update: The reading went very well, but it was crowded. Chelsea grew up here, and half the audience was made up of her old teachers and classmates. It felt like a reunion — a happy one. I’ll leave this drawing for the signed copy of her book open for another couple days.

On a related matter: I still haven’t heard from the two people who won the paperback edition of Queen of Swords. If I don’t hear from them by Tuesday, I’ll drawn two other names.

Note: giveaway details at the end of this post.

There are a number of authors out there who write crime/thrillers really well. Some of my favorites are John Sandford, Lee Child and Stephen Hunter. Laura Lippman and Thomas Harris are also favorites, and they are by far the best stylists, by which I mean their prose is as impressive as their plotting and characterization. The first three are superior strorytellers, but with a minimalist approach to prose.

There are many authors out there who write crime/thrillers that don’t work — at least for me. These are usually novels that derive from the standard murder-serial killer-care worn detective model. Sometimes these authors have a three or even six great novels in a series, but then they lose the thread. However, if the books have sold, they will usually continue writing. I’m sure you can think of some names that go in this list.

[asa book]0312368461[/asa] I pick up a new crime/thriller author with some trepidation. Willing to be surprised, certainly, but not very hopeful. There aren’t many Laura Lippman’s out there. Then the day before yesterday I picked up Chelsea Cain’s Heart Sick.

The best thriller writers are the ones who don’t tell you everything, but let you figure out some things for yourself. They also avoid stereotypes, and make the primary characters stand out. Cain does everything right in this novel, to the extent that I sometimes stopped reading to marvel.

This is the story of Archie Sheridan, a Portland, Oregon detective and Gretchen Lowell, who is in prison and will be there for the rest of her life for a series of very disturbing torture-murders. Archie, who was the lead detective on the task force looking for the serial killer is also Gretchen’s last victim. He is the only one to survive, despite his horrific treatment, but not because the police burst into the room where he’s being held. The circumstances of his long, ten day captivity and Gretchen’s decision to call an ambulance and turn herself in are given to us in small chunks, while the primary plot is evolving.

Archie visits Gretchen in prison every Sunday. The alleged reason is that she doles out information about the burial spots of her victims a crumb at a time, and only to Archie. The real reason is that Archie cannot shake himself loose of her — not in a sexual way, but for reasons far more complex and interesting.

After a two year recovery, Archie, addicted to pain killers, comes back to the Portland police department to head up a new serial killer task force. This one takes young girls, rapes and murders them, and leaves them to be found. At the same time, Archie agrees to let a journalist shadow him, with the goal of her writing a four part investigative piece about him, the hero cop. Susan Ward knows this assignment can make her career, but she is as vulnerable around Lowell as Archie is.

Cain does a masterful job of tying the different threads together in a way that surprised me. The rarest kind of surprise, too, when my urge is to read the book from the beginning right away, to see what clues I missed.

Coincidentally, Chelsea Cain comes from the town where I live, and tonight she’s reading at our local independent, Village Books. Such a coincidence needs to be acknowledged, so I am giving away a signed first edition of Heart Sick, along with one of my own signed novels, to some lucky person whose name I pull at random from the comments to this post. If you’d like to tell us whether you read thrillers, and which authors you prefer, that would be interesting — but not necessary. Just throw your name in the hat, if you like.

I have the feeling that Chelsea Cain will be a great success, so a signed first edition of her first novel is a great thing to have, even if you’re not so much a fan of thrillers.

35 Replies to “Heart Sick, Chelsea Cain (review & giveaway)”

  1. i haven’t read many crime/thrillers. I really liked Caleb Carr’s Alienist and Angel of Darkness. I’m always interested in something new to try. thanks for the tip and the chance at the giveaway

  2. Lee Child and Laura Lippman both, of course.
    Laurie R. King has several series including one of “A Novel of Suspense Feauring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes,” in which the two marry and sleuth together. Excellent writing and plots.
    Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John series, short stories and novellas.
    Margaret Maron. I’ve read only 1 of her novels. She has an authentic voice of small town North Carolina.
    Sharon Kay Penman’s Justin de Quincy series during Eleanor’s (Henry II) time.
    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series. Science fiction with an extreme interest in societal issues.

    Why? I’m a problem solver by nature. I enjoy both figuring out whodoneit and enjoy looking at the novel’s construction of a whodoneit. There are more on my list, but that’s enough!

  3. I haven’t read any crime/thrillers. But you made Heart Sick sound very interesting and you always have good suggestions. I’d like to have my name put into the hat, also.

  4. I’ve been a longtime fan of Jeffrey Deaver’s. Have heard good things about this book and would like to add it to my (perpetually growing) TBR stack.

  5. Please put my name in the hat Rosina.
    I have one or two thrillers, no particular author.
    I agree that you have made me want to read Heartsick, so will add to my tbr list.

  6. I don’t read many thrillers. I was turned off while trying to wade through the ocean of cookie-cutter titles. I love suspense though, and Heartsick sounds good. I’d also love a signed copy of any of your titles. Please put my name in the hat.

  7. I’m not normally a huge fan of thrillers, but this one sounds really interesting. Please throw my name in the hat. Thanks!


  8. I, too, like Sandford and Harris, though it’s been a while since I last read anything in the “Prey” series. I have a Hunter and a Child in my TBR pile, and based on your recommendation, I’ll probably pick up Lippman now, too.

    I saw the blurb for Heart Sick in the Mystery Guild flyer, but it didn’t sound as interesting to me as your more complete review. Please add my name to the list, as now I’m interested in reading it! Thanks.

  9. I really like thrillers so am surprised at myself for not reading more of them, or even recalling the names of the authors I like (shame on me!)… so I would relish the chance to read this novel, you’ve really piqued my interest in it!

  10. I’ve been looking longingly at Heartsick and debating whether or not I should pick it up. I can’t resist this opportunity.

  11. I’m not trying to double-enter — I forgot to mention I’m also a big Laura Lippman fan. I have Lee Child in my TBR pile.

  12. Throw my name in the hat – I’ve gotten hooked to Child’s books based on your recommendation, so I’d give Chelsea a try. That sounds like an amazing coincidence for this evening.

  13. I’d love for my name to be put in the hat too. I’ve never been all that interested in thrillers, but you have made this book sound simply unputdownable.

  14. Please throw my name in the hat. I am not a crime/thriller fan but the characters sound great and I will read just about anything if well written. Thanks!

  15. It’s one that I’ve seen each time I walk into Powell’s, but lack of employment has kept me from purchasing anything that’s not used. :-)

  16. I’ve read the occasional thriller and was even surprised I liked them so much, the only name that comes to mind is darn it, I forget her name, she’s a coroner whose husband dies and then he doesn’t or something like that, it’s a series. Anyways that’s the one that comes to mind. I’d like my name in the hat please.

  17. Even if I don’t win, I think I’ll go buy it. I’m very intrigued. I used to read James Patterson a long time ago, but lost interest. I’m glad you also gave some names of good authors, I think I’ll check them out. It’s hard to start reading a new genre when you don’t know where to start, or I should say with which authors. Thank you!

  18. Hello…
    I hope I’m not too late for this draw. I have only read Thomas Harris’ thrillers. I love the way he writes…he makes it look so easy.


  19. I’ve read many thrillers, and will read pretty much any well written book. I’ve read Harlan Coben thrillers and like many of them. One of his books was made into a movie in France. The trailer was interesting.

  20. I would like to throw my hat in the ring for this book (which sounds really good) and for one of your own signed books. I love thrillers and I will read almost anything although there are some that I read once and wouldn’t buy another by that person but life’s too short not to take a chance on missing something really good.

  21. HeartSick is on my “must have” list after reading a review of it in Entertainment Weekly this month. And your comments just confirm that this will be a good read.

    My favorite authors in this genre include Lee Child, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Harlan Coben and Karin Slaughter.

  22. I would love to have this book! My chances of getting it from the local library any time soon are slim to none (somehow I always end up at least 30th in the virtual line for new books), and I’m on a mission to pay off all our family’s debts by spring that has us on a budget equivalent to the Bataan Death March–so my chances of buying it myself are also slim to none.

    I tried Lee Child because I know you like his books a lot, but I also tried it as my first audio book at the same time. Which I really didn’t like, maybe because of the reader. I was so drained by the reader’s voice it was hard to track the story itself, and I took it back to the library without ever finishing….. I still mean to try Lee Child as an actual read, instead of having someone read it to me.

  23. I’ve been away for the weekend and just catching up. If I’m not stumbling in too late, please throw my name in the hat. Heart Sick sounds like a good read. I’ll add it to my To-Get list. Thanks.

  24. Hi Rosina, I’ve also gotten hooked on Hunter, Child and Sandford after reading your recommendations a while back. I also like two writers (American) in the English mystery genre–more of psychology, less of thrills–Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George. This Cain book sounds good.

  25. Well, yes. I like thrillers — some thrillers. But I’ve started reading and been disappointed a number of times. If I can guess what’s going to happen or if I recognize the author’s writing pattern (and it makes me roll my eyes), then I don’t like it. I have a harder time putting my finger on what I really do like. Surprising twists and unpredictability, with a satisfying conclusion, I suppose. I’ll add Heart Sick to my TBR.

  26. Rosina – have heard marvelous things about this crime thriller – and, in fact, one of the marvelous employees at the independant bookstore in Toronto that I order my mysteries from ranted and raved about Heartsick and threw it on my pile o books that I order from them – and she’s a tough critic and knows great authors – so I follow her judgment if she says a book is a “must have” so I’d love a signed first of Chelsea’s book.


  27. Please add my name to the hat, too. I like crime/thrillers, but it’s a genre I get tired of more easily than sf/fantasy, historical fiction, or romance, Authors that are among my favorites are Dana Stabenow, Mary Willis Walker, George Chesbro, and John Dunning.

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