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Heartsick (Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell) Mass Market Paperback – July 29, 2008
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Questions for Chelsea Cain
Amazon.com: Gretchen Lowell haunts every page of Heartsick. Even when she actually appears in the jail scenes with Sheridan, she reveals nothing, and yet it's obvious she's anything but one-dimensional. What is her story?
Cain: I purposely didn't reveal Gretchen's past, beyond a few unreliable hints. I thought there was a really interesting tension in not knowing what had driven this woman to embrace violence so enthusiastically. The less we know about killers' motives, the scarier they are. Maybe that's why people spend so much time watching 24-hour news channels that cover the latest horrible domestic murder. We want to understand why people kill. Because if we can peg it on something, we can tell ourselves that they are different than us, that we aren't capable of that kind of brutality. Plus this is the launch of a series and I thought it would be fun for readers to get to learn more about Gretchen as the series continues. I just finished Sweetheart, and I promise there's a lot more Gretchen to come.
Amazon.com: As a first-time thriller author, you've got to be elated to see early reviews evoke the legendary Hannibal Lecter. Did you anticipate readers to make that connection, or are there other serial series (on paper or screen) that inspired the story of Gretchen and Sheridan?
Cain: I thought that the connection to Lecter was inevitable since Heartsick features a detective who visits a jailed serial killer. But I wasn't consciously inspired by Silence of the Lambs (or Red Dragon, which is the Harris book it more accurately echoes). I grew up in the Pacific Northwest when the Green River Killer was at large, and I was fascinated by the relationship between a cop who'd spent his career hunting a killer (as many of the cops on the Green River Task Force did) and the killer he ends up catching. I'd seen an episode of Larry King that featured two of the Green River Task Force cops and they had footage of one of the cops with Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) in jail and they were chatting like old friends. They were both trying to manipulate one another. The cop wanted Ridgway to tell him where more bodies were. Ridgway is a psychopath and wanted to feel in control. But on the surface, they seemed like buddies having a drink together at a bar. It was kind of disturbing. I wanted to explore that. Making the killer a woman was a way to make the relationship even more intense. Making her a very attractive woman upped the ante considerably.
Amazon.com: Reading Heartsick I was actually reminded of some of my favorite books by Stephen King. Like him, you have an uncanny ability to make your geographical setting feel like a character all its own. Do you think the story could have happened in any other place than Portland?
Cain: Heartsick Hawaii would definitely have been a different book. (Archie Sheridan would have been a surfer. Susan would have worked at a gift shop. And Gretchen would have been a deranged hula girl.) I live in Portland, so obviously that played into my decision to set the book here. All I had to do was look out the window. Which makes research a lot easier. But I also think that the Pacific Northwest makes a great setting for a thriller, and it's not a setting that's usually explored. Portland is so beautiful. But its also sort of eerie. The evergreens, the coast, the mountains--the scale is so huge, and the scenery is so magnificent. But every year hikers get lost and die, kids are killed by sneaker waves on the beach, and mountain climbers get crushed by avalanches. Beauty kills. Plus it has always seemed like the Northwest is teeming with serial killers. I blame the cloud cover. And the coffee.
Amazon.com: In a lot of ways, Heartsick is more about the killer than the killings, and its hard not to suspect that Gretchen killed only to get to Sheridan. That begs the question: is the chase always better than the catch? As a writer, is it more exciting for you to imagine the pursuit--with its tantalizing push-and-pull--than the endgame?
Cain: The most interesting aspect of the book to me is the relationship between Archie and Gretchen. Really, I wrote the whole book as an excuse to explore that. The endgame is satisfying because it's fun to see all the threads come together, but it's the relationship that keeps coming back to the computer day after day.
Amazon.com: Your characters--Susan Ward in particular--are raw, tautly wired, imperfect but still have this irresistible tenderness. It's their motives and experiences that really drive the story and ultimately elevate it way beyond what you might expect going into a serial killer tale. How did you resist falling into something more formulaic? Did you know what shape Susan and the others would take going in?
Cain: I knew I wanted flawed protagonists. I'm a sucker for a Byronic hero. Thrillers often feature such square-jawed hero types, and I wanted a story about people just barely hanging on. The psychological component is really interesting to me, and I liked that Susan's neuroses are, in their own ways, clues. In many ways, I embraced formula. I love formula--theres a reason it works. And I decided early on that I wasn't going to avoid clichés for the sake of avoiding them. Some clichés are great. My goal was not to write a literary thriller, but to take all the stuff I loved from other books and TV shows and throw them all together and then try to put my own spin on it. Heartsick is a pulpy page-turner with, I hope, a little extra effort put into the writing and the characters. Basically, I just wrote the thriller that I wanted to read.(photo credit: Kate Eshelby)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Another serial killer has arisen in Portland, and Archie comes off medical leave to head up the new task force.
There were essentially three threads running through this story. That of Archie Sheridan's search for the "new" serial killer, that of the young pink-haired bohemian Susan who worked at the newspaper and who was covering the "human angle" of Archie being back on a task force looking for a serial killer, and that of Archie's tortured relationship with Gretchen.
Whenever a story contains multiple threads, the story runs the risk of having one or two of the threads outshine the other(s), and instead of a cohesive flow, the reader is left feeling off balance. Unfortunately, that's what happened here.
The relationship between Archie and Gretchen is told in two parts. I'll speak only of one, as I feel the other lies in the purview of a spoiler. Every so often, a chapter is inserted that takes us back two years to the ten days that Gretchen held Archie in captivity. Those chapters are without question the strongest chapters in the book.Read more ›
Since the central concept (the female serial killer and her hunter/prey) is a good one, it should have been the focus of the novel. Unfortunately, it is not, though it might be utilized again in a future work. Thus, the problem is that while the b-story plot is reasonably tight it is not as engaging as most readers of suspense fiction will desire. Most will find the a-story plot far more interesting. Indeed, the novel comes alive whenever the female serial killer appears, but it pales when she is off stage.
The writing improves as the novel develops, but initially it is often crude with many non-sequiturs and strange variations in tone. Some sentences and paragraphs are outright amateurish though, as I said, the writing improves noticeably after the initial chapters.
The book is worth reading for the serial killer plot and there are elements here that suggest that the author could do something far more impressive the next time out.
Archie was somewhat interesting, but I didn't find him to be "compelling", rather, I found him to be a little boring at times. What seemed to be an attempt at making the "hero" mysterious just left him as somewhat milquetoast overall. Gretchen Lowell, the villain, was less "compelling" still. Her supposed wisdom and sick mind played out like a weak attempt at a female Hannibal Lecter; she was not intimidating (though the attempt was made) nor was she scary. She was a criminal who had been caught and little more.
The most interesting (and that isn't saying much) character was the reporter, Susan Ward, who spent time writing a story about Archie Sheridan for the newspaper. The book was, although not written in first person, really a story from her point of view and she came through most strongly in the telling. The addition of a second story that she was pursuing was an obvious setup for follow up novels that will, if written like this one, be just as mediocre.
The story surrounds the search for a serial killer and several efforts at presenting potential suspects fell flat. There was barely any suspsense, hardly an ounce of mystery. It was a ride-along with a cop on his puruit of a killer that really didn't seem to be much of a SERIAL killer. I won't spoil the outcome, but suffice it to say that there was no buildup, no climax of story, no real heart-fluttering moments of intensity.Read more ›
The writing is outstanding. I was immediately grabbed and drawn into this vivid, perverse world. The atmosphere created by the mood, voice, and tone is truly amazing, dark, and creepy. I had to keep looking outside my window to reassure myself that it was still daylight. I have not been this affected by the atmosphere of a book since INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE by Anne Rice many years ago. The characters are mesmerizing in a distressing, twisted way. Our "hero," detective Archie Sheridan, was the final victim of a truly brutal psychopathic female serial killer, Gretchen Lowell, whom he tracked for nearly 10 years. He is also the only victim to "survive" her torture, if you can call Archie's current life and state of mind survival. Although Gretchen is in a maximum security prison for life, she still pushes Archie's buttons, and he is still dancing to her sick, terrifying tune. The chapters detailing Archie's prolonged captivity and the supreme agony and brain-washing inflicted upon him by Gretchen nearly two years ago are deftly interwoven between the chapters describing Archie's hunt for a new serial killer. This very unique and successful device lets us glimpse inside Archie's warped and troubled mind as he works to solve his current case.
HEARTSICK is gripping, sinister, page-turner of a thriller that keeps you riveted until the final page. While you may think you have it all figured out, believe me, you don't. The twists, turns, shocks, and surprises carry on to the last words of the final page.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First read by this author. I was led here by reading all of the Karin Slaughter books, which I also enjoyed. I intend on reading the entire series.Published 1 month ago by Alison
This book deserves a solid 4 rating. Chelsea Cain has managed to draw me into the world she has created where Gretchen's psychotic ways have caused Archie to lose everything and... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Kindle Customer
Two years after detective Archie Sheridan was tortured and released from the Beauty Killer, Gretchen Lowell, he's back to work on another serial killer case. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Genevieve Speegle
Yay for the disturbingly twisted lady serial killer! I love crime/thriller/serial killer novels and this one was one of the best because our killer is a beautiful blonde woman! Read morePublished 3 months ago by Megington
Loved it! I really got pulled into the book from page one and the characters were so captivating!Published 4 months ago by Patty Gerdes
This reads like you were there. Loved the cerebral experience. The power of evil is always fascinating and dangerous so we are held in it's grip like voyeurs.Published 4 months ago by Sally Eatherly