Black Eyed Susans
by Julia Heaberlin
I am the star of screaming tabloid headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.
Left with three other girls in a grave shrouded by black-eyed Susans, Tessa alone survived, her testimony helping to put a killer behind bars.
Now, sixteen years later, he is about to be executed. But Tessa feels no relief.
Because someone is planting black-eyed Susans outside her window. Someone is sending her daughter sinister messages. And there’s a lawyer telling her the man about to be put to death is innocent.
Which can mean only one thing: the wrong man has been sentenced, the real killer is still out there and Tessa might not be the last Black-Eyed Susan…
It took me a while to get through this book as I had things going on, but sadly “Black Eyed Susans” didn’t quite draw me in as much as I would have liked.
The book has a powerful premise, exploring the life of the sole survivor of a serial killer, Tessa. Found in a mass grave of the victim’s bones, Tessa tells the story from two time frames; 1995 when she was having therapy for the trauma of this event, and present day where we learn that the killer is on death row, but Tessa is having doubts about whether this man is the right one. The story had me gripped at the beginning, I am always intrigued by death row stories and documentaries so I was interested to see where this was going.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the well researched forensic aspect of this book. Not having a background or knowledge of this field it was interesting to read about all of the advanced methods for solving these types of crimes. I was especially amazed to read that our bones can determine where we have lived!
As well as the story, I really liked Tessa in the present day, her relationship with her daughter, her absent-minded neighbour, Effie, and the new friendships she has formed with people working on her case. She felt realistic, clearly affected by the results of her childhood, she hears the voices of the Susans, the unknown girls she was found in the grave with. I wasn’t so keen, however, on Tessa in the past. With both her therapist and her best friend Lydia, younger Tessa annoyed me I couldn’t get to grips with her character. She didn’t feel as genuine, didn’t seem like she wanted to help, reluctant to engage and honestly didn’t seem to bothered by the events. If she had been written a little less confident, a little quieter, it would have seemed more realistic to me. I felt similarly towards Lydia too. In addition to Tessa’s two timelines, more points of view are explored towards the end of the book, but these didn’t feel particularly necessary and I could have done without them.
As the book progresses in time, we slowly find out more details of the case, but I felt as though it took a little too long to get going. While the premise was interesting, it just wasn’t enough to keep my full attention, often getting distracted by whatever was happening outside the bus window! There was a little too much description and not enough action. More of a crime story than a thriller, the book was just too long for its content and could have been reduced by a good 100 pages.
Without saying too much, what really let this book down for me was the ending, the twist. The whole book is leading up to the ending, you can’t stop reading and not find out who the killer was, you need to know if the right man is in jail or if they are actually going to execute an innocent man. But sadly, I felt it was anticlimactic. While not completely obvious to the reader, there was some clues that it was coming and disappointingly not all of the ends were tied.