REVIEW: Evil At Heart (Beauty Killer Series No.3) by Chelsea Cain

Evil At HeartEvil 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.


About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
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7 Responses to REVIEW: Evil At Heart (Beauty Killer Series No.3) by Chelsea Cain

  1. Tee says:

    Avid Reader says: …Gretchen Low­ell has worn out her wel­come with me. It was Archie who I was most inter­ested in from the start….

    Wow, Keishon, you got this book fast. Good review, although I’ve not yet read it. I suspect my feelings will be similar since I said something like that with the last book. Cain has to bring the Gretchen issue to a head and end it. As with you, it’ll just become more unbelievable as it goes on. Cain can hold on to Archie, if she keeps him real. It’s one thing to be vulnerable, but it all has to make sense in the context of his performing as a human and a detective. Having a very flawed character peppered with good qualities works as long as the envelope isn’t pushed so much that scenarios become ridiculous and unbelievable. Still, I’m anxious for the book; Cain is a terrific writer.

  2. Wendy says:

    When I first heard about this series (back when I got the awesome ARC for Heartsick) I thought I had read somewhere that it was originally planned as a trilogy. Of course now I can’t remember where I read that nugget, nor can I find it. Needless to say, since she’s been landing on the NYT list, it’s not surprising we’ll be getting more than a trilogy now.

    But like you, I feel the Gretchen angle does have to have an “end” eventually. Otherwise it will just get too perverse, absurd, and silly. Although that being said, I do think the author has been smart to limit Gretchen’s actual “face time” in the books. She was barely in this story at all – even though her presence was felt throughout.

    Sounds like we agree on a lot of things here. I too felt this was a bit of a “place holder” in the series, and it was also the book where I felt like the series stopped standing alone. Although I graded it a bit higher at a B+, mostly because it kept me glued to my seat and flipping the pages.

  3. Avid Reader says:

    @Tee – as usual, interested in your thoughts on this book. I read through Amazon’s VINE reviews after I finished the book and some people are still enthralled and then there are others like me are waiting for something more.

    @Wendy, I can’t find where this is supposed to be a trilogy either but I assumed that there would be more books in this series since her books are selling very well. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. The beginnig of this book was gripping but as the plot moved along, I was no longer gripped to my seat anymore. It took all of two days to finish this book if that says anything. She can write. I’m just sick of Gretchen with or without any face time.

  4. SarahT says:

    I enjoyed the first two books in the series and I’m definitely planning to read this one. I agree with those of you who say the Gretchen angle needs to have an end in sight. Although I haven’t yet read ‘Evil at Heart’, I think the author would have to introduce something fresh in order to make the Gretchen storyline sustainable over a number of books. I’m very fond of Susan in particular and I could see her and Archie working as the main characters in a longer-running series.

  5. Avid Reader says:

    SarahT: I’m very fond of Susan in par­tic­u­lar and I could see her and Archie work­ing as the main char­ac­ters in a longer-running series.

    Yes, I could continue to read about Archie and the rest in a separate story arc. Maybe Gretchen can assist him in catching monsters like herself?

  6. Tee says:

    Just finished reading “Evil at Heart” and absolutely loved it. I liked that Gretchen was more in the background in this one, rather than physically front and center. Susan’s character is taking on some strength and I like that because she was one who didn’t impress me that much from the beginning. I thought Cain painted her just a tad immature and I couldn’t see her accomplishing all that Cain was having her do. Loved Henry who is such a wonderful friend to Archie. And Archie himself, I do see progress in the book for him. He appears to be trying hard and wants to win this game. It’s three steps forward and one back at times, but he isn’t giving up. Loved, loved, loved the dark humor. Cain does this so well. I needed that in this book, since I had to stop enough times and take a break. I was always anxious to return to it, but really needed time away for a while. Loved the twists and turns, especially near the end.

    I’m ready for the next one. I could probably do another book with Gretchen, but then I think it’s time to delete her character. If she keeps Archie going as she has in this one, I will continue to follow her books. Her writing is easy and the dialog flows very well. A winner for me.

  7. Avid Reader says:

    Tee: If she keeps Archie going as she has in this one, I will con­tinue to fol­low her books. Her writ­ing is easy and the dia­log flows very well. A win­ner for me

    Yep, I like Archie more than I do Gretchen and he progressed some but at the end there he did regress a tiny bit. But the next book will be the determining factor for me. I’m not keen on recurring characters if they keep doing the same thing over and over while the author does nothing challenging or new for them. But on that we are agreed, I’d read her next book. Agree about Susan being a tad bit immature at times and YES, Cain’s black humor permeated the story as she has always done.

    Tee: Just fin­ished read­ing “Evil at Heart” and absolutely loved it. I liked that Gretchen was more in the back­ground in this one, rather than phys­i­cally front and cen­ter.

    I knew you’d love it. Realized that I failed to mention that bit about Gretchen being more in the foreground but for me her physical presence in the story wasn’t needed to be front and center. All the media exposure and all her crimes, etc.

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