Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain is the third book in the New York Times bestselling series featuring “the beauty killer” aka Gretchen Lowell and the damaged cop who is obsessed with her, Archie Sheridan. The series is set in Portland, Oregon and the narrative is told in third person present tense.
I know, serial killers aren’t your thing right? Well, it wasn’t mine either until I started reading this series. What can I say, Chelsea Cain knows how to write thrillers. The kind where you don’t want to be disturbed until you get to the last page. So, what did I think of this story? I’ll tell you in just a moment.
The story picks up about two months after Gretchen Lowell’s escape from prison. The Beauty Killer Task Force is reconvened to catch her again. The Beauty Killer’s last victim was Archie Sheridan, the lead detective on the task force that was hunting her down. Since the events of the last book, Archie’s taken medical leave from work and has voluntarily checked himself into a pych-ward. In this lastest entry, he’s been relegated to consulting with his partner, Henry Sobol, in this latest rash of murders.
Just to give a brief overview of this series thus far: Gretchen Lowell, who is also known as “the beauty killer” infiltrated the task force that was looking for her to get to Archie. She tortured him for ten days in her basement and then mysteriously turns herself in and let’s him go.
Archie’s escaped her clutches twice now to live to talk about it only to have her leave him physically and emotionally scarred. He struggles with his love/hate relationship with her. You see, Gretchen’s very beautiful and she uses her sexuality to manipulate men to do her bidding and then kills them.
Evil At Heart opens with a grisly scene at a rest stop. Detective Henry Sobol arrives on scene and recognizes it as the beauty killer’s handiwork or is it? Since Gretchen’s escape, the media has been running non-stop stories about her. As a result of excessive exposure, murders around the world have been attributed to her. And like most serial killers, Gretchen always leaves her signature.
Another recurring character in the series is Susan Ward. With each new entry, Susan gets a new hair color and this time it’s purple. Anyway, Susan’s a reporter for the Herald who wants to be taken seriously as a journalist. She along with Archie and Henry have an ongoing working relationship. Susan shadowed Archie while he solved the After School Strangler case in Heartsick.
Susan’s humor is very welcoming and actually lightens up the mood in a series that continues to be gruesomely dark. Her interesting tidbits of death facts were interspersed throughout the story and were referenced from Final Exits:The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die by Michael Largo. Some of those facts were quite interesting.
The author makes an attempt at social satire in here in addressing the public’s obsession with violent criminals. The constant media attention and public consumption of Gretchen Lowell seems to have inspired t-shirts, banners and coffee cups inscribed with things like: I’d kill for a cup of coffee. What this attention has also generated is a serial killer cultist group mimicking the beauty killer’s past exploits.
Well, that’s essentially the plot for this third book in the series so now I’ll just start discussing what I liked and didn’t about the novel. First, the story is very readable. Pacing has never been this author’s problem. The series gets even darker if you can believe that involving disturbing subject matters of self-mutilation and sadism. Then again the whole Gretchen/Archie dynamic is disturbing as well.
More negatives. The story started to loose my interest about midway. There’s a lot of manipulation in here as well as a lot of head games between Archie and Gretchen which we’ve come to expect. It’s getting to be annoying. And at the end I’m supposed to believe that Archie has returned to his former self? Really? Questionable.
All I know is that the next book in this series will be a pivotal one for me. The continued back and forth between Gretchen Lowell and Archie Sheridan’s relationship, which is at the heart of this series, is getting a bit old. The story is full of twists and turns with a few shocking scenes but still. Something is missing.
EVIL AT HEART gets a low B only because I think Gretchen Lowell has worn out her welcome with me. It was Archie who I was most interested in from the start and again, I find it questionable that he can get back to what he once was at the start of the series but I’m willing to wait and see what happens next.
While the ending lays open the possibilities for more sequels, I do think it’s time to redefine Gretchen’s role in this series or end it. Otherwise, I can’t really say I’d be interested in reading the next one. My enthusiasm for this series is starting to diminish because no new ground is being tread here. So, yes, Evil At Heart is very readable but it will not be my favorite in the series. B-.
Additionally, EVIL AT HEART does not stand alone well, so if you’re new to this series, you will have to read the first book, HEARTSICK to understand what is going on in here. It’s always been my belief that every book should be written as a stand alone even in a series if you’re trying to attract new readers. The ebook looks to be released simultaneously as the hardcover via Amazon’s Kindle. Not sure about other etailers.
If you like Chelsea Cain, then I’d recommend Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series starting with Triptych, Alafair Burke’s Angel Tip, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series starting with In the Bleak Midwinter and Jodi Compton’s, 37th Hour. Mostly all are character driven mysteries.