Pop Culture Princess

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Chelsea Cain will make you Heartsick for more of Gretchen Lowell

Meet Detective Archie Sheridan-two years ago,he was the head of the "Beauty Killer" task force who wound up being captured by the subject of his investigation and tortured for ten days before she called 911 and turned herself in. Gretchen Lowell still haunts Archie even behind bars,since she insists on revealing the locations of many more of her victims only to Archie,who visits her in prison every Sunday.

Archie is called back to active duty when a new serial killer starts to make headlines,the"After School Strangler"who bleachs the bodies of his victims before dumping them near the river. Tagging along with him is young ambitious Portland Herald reporter,Susan Ward,a pink haired attempting to be tough as nails gal who is assigned to profile Archie for the paper, oddly enough at his request.

Susan's less than thrilled at first to be covering Archie,since she's on the trail for Molly Hunter,a former teenaged babysitter who was seduced by a local senator. However,as she tries to find out more about Archie,some of her own past comes into play as the hunt for the After School Strangler becomes more and more intense.

This is Chelsea Cain's first thriller and the real strength of the story comes from the characters more than the plot. Archie's daily torment of taking so many pills just to get thru the day to keep at bay the physical and emotional scars Gretchen gleefully inflicted on him,is just one of his personality facets. We see some of his flashbacks to his time spent in Gretchen's clutches,which gives you some insight into why he's still drawn to this psychopathic yet alluring woman who brags about ruining him for all other females.

Gretchen is the ladylike Hannibal Lector of this show,and as the story gets closer to putting her directly onstage,the suspense is at it's highest point in the book. Gretchen is not a literal maneater,but her chief goal in life seems to be devouring Archie's spirit. Their relationship to one another even at this stage plays out like a prolonged courtship,one that involves slicing a heart onto Archie's chest,making him drink drain cleaner for several days and removing his spleen to send to his partner Henry,along with his wallet. Yep,Gretchen is not Miss Mary Meek and Mild,that's for damn sure:

Cain doesn't just make Heartsick the Archie & Gretchen Hour,she also pumps life into her secondary characters as well,like Susan who has plenty of issues with seeking out unavailable men and Anne Boyd,the FBI profiler who worked with Archie on the Beauty Killer task force and returns to this new investigation in hopes of easing her guilt over being fooled by Gretchen the last time. The story is set in Portland,Oregon and Cain skillfully invokes a strong sense of place,making even those who never set foot there feel like they know the city like the back of their hand:

As I said earlier,the plot is not the most compelling part of the book,but it does manage to provide a strong and steady enough spine for the Law & Order:SVU twists and turns that the characters make and find in order to connect the dots that lead to the killer. Cain is planning to release two more books about Gretchen and Archie within the next two years and she gave me such a good time in introducing these two tainted lovebirds that I wouldn't mind joining them for another round of romantic Russian Roulette. Heartsick looks like the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Chelsea Cain and readers everywhere who love a good couple that's just so bad for each other.

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