Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Synopsis: I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Review: I did not really know about the novel before starting it even if it is true that I had seen the cover around a few times. When I saw the French release, it’s true that the summary really attracted me and I was curious to see what the author would introduce us. I can tell you now that I’m not disappointed!

We meet Tessa, a young woman who survived a serial killer when she was younger. It is a traumatic experience, especially when you consider that she was found buried with other dead girls. But now, many years have passed and Tessa has created a new life although it is difficult to put all that aside. Yet the presence of her daughter is the central element that helps her to advance. Her life is however upset again when her alleged attacker is in the death row and some are beginning to raise doubts about his guilt. Tessa then tries to delve into her past to understand what exactly happened and to uncover the killer’s identity. Yet despite the years, this process is very difficult.

The novel is divided between present and past, between a Tessa trying to regain her sight after her trauma, one who tries to move on and to become something other than a “black-eyed susan”, who needs to prepare for trial and who should manage the consequences of her survival and a Tessa trying to find evidence that could exonerate the man she sent to prison, teaming up with a forensic doctor and a lawyer. Yet the young woman did not think about the consequences of her actions.

I found that the author had succeeded in an extraordinary way to relay the feelings of her character, her anxiety, fears, hopes and questions and it’s true that it’s been a while since I had not felt as much emotions by closing the book. And even if I doubted many times the characters one after the other, I admit that I really did not expect for such a purpose and such a culprit. A real surprise!

As I said I had a great time with the story and I struggled to put the novel down before finishing it because I was really curious to know what was going to happen next whether in the past or in the present. Yes, it was a scary unhealthy and compelling story, but also one well written. A good thriller to discover!



22 thoughts on “Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

  1. This sounds terrifying and empowering at the same time. I’ve seen it around and thought about reading it, but now I’m completely convinced.

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