Black Eyed Susans

Written by Julia Heaberlin

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Black Eyed Susans
Penguin Random House
RRP: £7.99
Released: March 10 2016

Heaberlin’s third novel is a gothic thriller complete with allusions to the darkness that is concealed beneath the veneer of a dream; but is actually a nightmare told for contemporary audiences, and is as hypnotic as it is nerve shredding. It poses questions about capital punishment as it does also about the veracity of memory, and the choices that confront us.

The title refers to the trivial name of the State flower of Maryland, related to the Sunflower family. It also symbolizes ‘Justice’ making it an apt motif for this rather dark tale of a woman confronting her past, where there was death, and now another’s life hangs in the balance.

Nearly two decades ago the sixteen year old Tessa Cartwright was discovered in a shallow grave in Texas, with a collection of bones and death; laid amongst a bed of wild flowers – the Black Eyed Susans, that give the novel its title, and the  theme of justice. It was the young Tessa’s testimony, the sole survivor amongst the bones of the dead that placed T
errell Darcy Goodwin behind the bars of death row.

Today, grown and a single mother, Tessa finds to her horror, a clutch of the American wild-flowers placed outside her house, outside her bedroom; the self-same Black Eyed Susans that lay on the grave of her past; a past that is as hazy as it is locked in the terror of what happened to this young girl, like the fragments of a nightmare torn from a fever, or that of a dark fairy tale.

With worry that perhaps the man on Death Row Terrell Darcy Goodwin, may not have been the perpetrator of the murders back eighteen years; and that the real evil still walks amongst her and is free – Tessa heads off to speak with Goodwin’s legal defence team.

The flowers from her past that have reappeared in her present provide no help to Goodwin’s lawyers to prevent that last walk on Death Row. Instead, modern forensic techniques are deployed on the unidentified bones that shared Tessa’s floral grave; as are hypnotic methods, for the veracity in Tessa’s recollections comes under question. Following the incident to the teenager, the grown up Tessa Cartwright has built up cognitive walls to protect her from what really happened those eighteen years ago.

The clock ticks onward, as Goodwin faces his last walk in the penitentiary’s loneliest corridor; while Tessa confronts the ghosts of her past, her paintings and her fears for her safety and that of her own teenage daughter, for hanging in the balance is a man’s life and the terrifying thought that a monster walks around her free, clutching the flowers that also symbolize ‘Justice’, and which are also woven deeply into her nightmares.

A standout Gothic Thriller, that traverses a nightmare from days now passed, into an uncertain future for a woman haunted by something she doesn’t understand, but fears. 

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