HeartSick by Chelsea Cain (Archie and Gretchen #1)

Heartsick book coverA Guilty 5 Stars

I enjoyed Heartsick as much as any thriller I have read in a few years. The main character was damaged and broken but managed to be effective and rational. The counterpoint was the jailed serial killer Gretchen who was pulling on some psychological and mental strings in Archie’s mind and soul. I found it to be engaging, entertaining and chilling. That said, there are issues with novel. The “holier than thou” reviewer in me wants to give this four stars but the reader inside of me says that I enjoyed this too much to give it less than five stars. The reader inside of me won out, or maybe Gretchen has ahold of me as well……

Plot Outline

When I saw this was a cop and jailed serial killer story, I immediately assumed we were going to have a Silence of the Lambs relationship. Thankfully, that was not the case and in fact, the author takes some time to poke fun at that notion.

In the story, a series of young girls have been murdered and it appears that they are related.  Detective Archie Sheridan is called out of a medical leave to lead a taskforce to solve this crime. Archie had previously lead this same task force for 10 years as they sought to catch another notorious serial killer. We immediately learn that Archie was captured and tortured by the first serial killer. He survived the ordeal and the serial killer was put behind bars. Despite surving, the reader knows that the Killer, Gretchen Lowell, is still exerting some control over Archie. The details of this are not immediately clear and the reader is left to wonder about the ongoing relationship between cop and killer.

Given the high profile nature of the case and Archie’s history, Susan Ward, a reporter, is tasked to follow Archie and write a profile on him, his past, and his current condition. The investigation becomes personal for all parties involved and the storylines coalesce in an exciting and original finish.

The Good

Into the Mind of a Killer and Victim

This story dealt exceptionally well with psychological condition of the characters.  Through a series of flashbacks, we learn bits and pieces of Archie’s experience at the hands of Gretchen Lowell. As this occurs, we begin to understand his current mental condition while we get a glimpse into the depraved and broken mind of Gretchen Lowell.

Since we are talking about Gretchen, I have to say that she is one of the most interesting characters I have read in recent memory. Although it takes a while for us to be introduced to this character, we glimpse her legacy and personality thorough Archie. When we do meet her, she is everything we hoped for. She is well drawn, well imagined and both charming and frightening, intoxicating and nauseating. I have high hopes for this series as these characters make for exciting counterparts.

No Plot Abandonment

While I was absorbed in the Gretchen and Archie storyline, I was equally interested in the murder mystery which was the parallel storyline. The other characters that moved this story along were interesting and well developed. The character of Susan Ward, the reporter, was well drawn and interesting. Portions of the story were told from her perspective which made for multiple interesting perspectives on the issues. The subplot, which was the relationship between Archie and Gretchen, was nicely balanced with main plot allowing each to be dealt with and understood.

The Bad

I Don’t Believe You

Some of the plots elements were difficult to believe. Multiple times I found myself saying that I couldn’t see the character doing that and some of the elements felt contrived. Even the initial set up (a reporter following around the lead investigator while he was searching for a serial killer) was contrived and hard to believe. Additionally, the final reveal of the main plot felt a bit contrived. While some readers will have issues with some plot development, the expertly drawn characters trumped any plot issues for me.

Final Thoughts

This is not a perfect novel but it is a very entertaining novel. The flaws were completely overshadowed by my enjoyment of the story and the characters. If the rest of the series is written in such an entertaining way, this will threaten to become a favorite series. *Fingers Crossed*

It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of books. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.

Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest

Sex 2

There were a few sexual elements in the story. One character is actively involved in an affair. There is some sex between them but it is not graphic. There are other sexualized elements but nothing is graphic or explicit.

Language 3

There is a moderate amount adult language. Moderate usage of mild obscenities and low to moderate use of the f-word.

Violence 4

Violence is a pervasive theme and some elements are graphic. There are multiple murders and the descriptions of the condition of the bodies is explicit at times. There is extensive usage of flashbacks  that show elements of torture. This occurs throughout the book and it is graphic at times. The fact is, there are violence or descriptions of violence in most every chapter. If you don’t like violence, you won’t like this book

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Tim Written by:

Tim is a lawyer, sports fan, parent, husband and book lover. He runs his own legal practice and is the founder of The Literary Lawyer book blog and a contributing writer for baseballbabble.com. Tim loves to share his love of reading by providing reviews to entertain as well as provide information to help you make an informed reading decision.