Texan author Julia Heaberlin found herself in the best sellers lists when this, her third novel was published in 2015. As a teenager, main character Tessie was abducted and dumped in a grave with the bodies and bones of other victims amongst a cluster of Black Eyed Susan flowers. She survives, a man is tried and sixteen years later his death sentence is due to be carried out. Tessie, now Tess, begins to doubt his guilt and believes the serial killer may still be at large.
It feels very much an American novel with is exploration of capital punishment and the race against time within the American legal system. I felt a little distanced from it throughout. This is compounded by a dual narrative, one of which features Tessie in the time after her ordeal leading to the trail where she has developed psychosomatic blindness and has to endure probing therapy sessions with the other narrative featuring the Tess who is doubting her original beliefs with the convicted man on Death Row. I felt the narrative switches too quickly in the main body of the novel which stopped me from feeling as involved as I would have liked to be in a thriller of this nature.
This is a dark tale. Tess has been through a horrendous ordeal and is understandably a damaged soul. Her relationships with men, her upbringing of her daughter are all compromised by what happened in the flower surrounded grave. In fact, what I felt most chilling were these flowers which continue to insinuate their way into Tess’ life long after her ordeal is over. Unfortunately, character-wise, nobody is especially likeable and although I appreciated the novel’s darkness I did not find it particularly thrilling.
Julia Heaberlin manages to make these seem creepy!
I was actually expecting to get more out of this book than I did. I was in the mood for something with good pace and which would have me holding my breath but for some reason it did not do it for me. I felt Heaberlin was holding me at arm’s length and I was further distanced by the location and narrative style. Although I did enjoy it I wanted more from a book subtitled “A Novel Of Suspense”.
Black Eyed Susans was published in the UK by Penguin in 2015.