Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

Rating: 4/5

Tessa is a survivor. Having being captured and left with three other girls in a grave surrounded by Black-eyed Susans, her testimony sends her captor to await death row.

Sixteen years later, he is awaiting execution and Tessa begins to wonder if maybe she sent an innocent man to jail. Someone is planting Black-eyed Susans outside her window and a lawyer insists that the wrong man has been convicted. Realising that the real killer could still be out there, Tessa is forced to confront her past to unlock the mystery of who really captured her all those years ago.

“I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.

I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.

The lucky one.”

Black-Eyed Susans is a gripping thriller that I read in days. The novel unfolds in two parts – the present day Tessa and her teenage self Tessie just after surviving her attack. I don’t want to give anything away but it was interesting trying to piece the puzzle together and seeing how the two timelines connected. I kept looking for clues that may or may not have been there and I was sort of in the right direction when it came to guessing the mystery, but I still didn’t figure it all out. In fact, I purposefully tried not to think about it too much as sometimes I think it ruins the enjoyment of a story. As much as I loved Gone Girl, it was slightly disappointing to have guessed the twist so easily. Oh and not that anybody believes me, but five minutes into The Sixth Sense I saw the twist coming a mile away!

Black-Eyed Susans is the latest in a long line of thrillers that have dominated the charts, a trend that seems to have started with the aforementioned Gone Girl. A review on the blurb of the book describes it as Grip Lit, highlighting the genre’s current influence. The term almost seems dismissive though, in a way that is similar to how Chick Lit is used to describe commercial women’s fiction, almost like it’s a dirty word. I’m a fan of most genres and I hate snobbish attitudes towards books, which often happens once something is a success. Perhaps it’s a case of just plain old jealousy?

Black-Eyed Susans is an enjoyable original thriller and for once there’s no girl in the title! The novel makes quite a statement on race and the death penalty. It is disturbing the amount of innocent men who have been unlawfully convicted because of the colour of their skin. The novel didn’t shy away from these injustices and highlights the flaws in the American justice system. It’s hard to know where to stand on the issue. Is an eye for an eye acceptable or do two wrongs simply not make a right?

The novel also explores the advances of science and DNA. These progressive measures are crucial in ensuring the correct person is convicted of a crime and it was a revelation to discover just how much information can be gleaned from a body’s bones and teeth. Teeth enamel absorbs dust and the type of dust can indicate where the deceased grew up. Residue from gases can cling to soil and soak into bones. Specifically, rib bones can show a person’s residency for the last eight to ten years of life as ribs are constantly growing and absorbing the environment. Information like this is always exciting to learn and I always enjoy discovering something new, especially when it comes to crime investigations. Often a book can provide us with knowledge that we may never have discovered.

Overall, I enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans. Tessa was a strong independent character, despite everything she had been through. I loved her relationship with her daughter Charlie and I enjoyed seeing what began to develop between Tessa and the lawyer Bill. I do find myself wondering if this will be the latest novel to be turned into a film. I guess time will tell.

Have you read Black-Eyed Susans? Did you enjoy it? Or is the crime genre too grim for you? Let me know what you think!

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