Review: Black Eyed Susans

I read this in five hours. No joke. I borrowed it from a friend, curled up to read before tea, and didn’t move until I had finished. I couldn’t put this book down.

Book: Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Published by: Penguin, 2016
Available from Amazon, and bookstores in various formats.

At sixteen, Tessie was found in a grave with three other girls and the flowers called black-eyed susans. Her tale picks up, split between her seventeen year old self goading her psychiatrist, and her adult self, trying to overturn the death row date of the man convicted of nearly killing her. As time progresses in the mid 90’s and in the present day, more of the story, of the evidence, of the relationships between the characters emerge. In the present, Tessa is haunted by patches of black-eyed susans planted outside her house, wherever she goes with her daughter. She is convinced that the killer is playing with her, that he is still at large, and is desperate to discover who it is, as well as helping the team of lawyers trying to overturn the conviction of the man jailed for the killings. She feels, all those years later, that she was coerced into giving the testimony that put him behind bars, when she couldn’t remember what happened between her abduction and her rescue.

This book was, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely gripping. I started the book expecting a typical thriller plot, where the recommendations stemmed from being well written. But there are so many twists and turns in this novel, as the viewpoint switches from Tessie and Lydia to Tessa and the lawyers. Tessa doubts herself, she doubts her own sanity and she is determined to help the other girls in the grave with her, known as ‘the susans’.

The teenager Tessie, is suffering from severe psychological trauma and fights back when she feels cornered. She lies, manipulates so she feels safe, and hates feeling weak. Her best friend Lydia is her rock, doesn’t treat her like she is weak, and helps her with her plans. Until suddenly she doesn’t. Lydia was a fascinating character, especially as the jollies into the past are clouded with Tessa’s feeling of betrayal and abandonment from her oldest friend. Tessa, as an adult, is trying desperately to be normal, but not really knowing how normal is. She is paranoid, she is afraid. I thought she was quite real. The little cameo of Effie, the batty next door neighbour, brings a little light hearted touch to an otherwise dramatic and intriguing tale.

In all honesty, I don’t know how to describe this book. The plot warps and twists and you’ll begin to doubt every scrap of evidence, everything said, every thought. And as more information is drip fed, you can understand how Tessa is paranoid, terrified that her monster is coming for her and her daughter. I couldn’t prise my eyes away from the page, desperate to find out what happened, who it was who abducted her all those years before.

And then the ending appears like a curveball. And suddenly, its all over. Knocking you for sixes for a few minutes as you try to reconcile how obvious it seems once everything has been tied together.

If you like suspense-filled, psychological intrigues, I would absolutely recommend this book. Just, be ready for it!


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