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.
Not only was this a sophisticated thriller, it was also an excellent account on the processes involved in solving cold cases. The scientific angle of the novel appealed to me greatly and was represented with considerable attention to accuracy. I also liked the subtle informative nature of the novel with regard to death penalty cases and the appeals process.
Structurally, the story was arranged and presented in three parts and within these three parts, the story was told from two alternating perspectives, one of which was always present day Tessa, the main character, throughout the three parts. I found the story unfolded really well with this arrangement. It was engossing, kept you on edge, and presented the story as a whole, with everything you needed to know revealed in a timely fashion.
I felt a deep connection to Tessa and a great a deal of empathy for what she had endured and consequently suffered. The author portrayed her in a realistic and non-martyrish manner, giving me as a reader, plenty of reasons to like her and become invested in her.
This novel has given me much to think over, particularly with regard to the way society treats the victims of crime. A certain sense of notoriety can get attached to a victim, and sadly, a macabre sort of celebrity status that they may neither want nor deserve. Much thought has also been given to those who are sentenced to the death penalty for crimes committed before the introduction of using DNA to secure conviction. A person can’t help but wonder at how many people have been convicted on loose evidence, circumstantial at best. This novel presents these ideas within the story without being preachy, and for that, it’s a winner in my books.
Thought provoking, thrilling, downright frightening at times, and terribly gut wrenching. I loved it and will actively seek out more from Julia Heaberlin.