A small while ago, I was meant to attend a Waterstones event, where Julia Heaberlin would be speaking about her new book, Paper Ghosts, but it was unfortunately cancelled. However, I was given a free copy of one of her other books, Black Eyed Susans.
Black Eyed Susans is a harrowing story.
Aged 16, Tessie Cartwright was found buried in a grave, marked by a patch of black-eyed susans. She was surrounded by bones – the bodies of previous victims. A man was captured and convicted, and sits awaiting his punishment on Death Row. She remembers nothing about what happened to her. 18 years later, Tessa suspects the real killer is still out there, and wonders if the right man was caught.
Firstly, I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I really like these covers; a beautiful floral pattern is a nice change from more conventional thriller and crime cover designs.
Black Eyed Susans switches frequently between two main perspectives: the teenage Tessie, in therapy recovering from her ordeal, and the adult Tessa, haunted by her past.
I thought Tessie’s childhood perspective was the most fascinating. She discusses with her doctor what she actually remembers and what she thinks she remembers. The narration clearly conveyed Tessie’s inner-thoughts and attitudes; I felt I really understood her character. Because of this, the therapy scenes were my favourite sections of the book.
I also liked the interview segments which were taken from the trial, as Tessie is asked by lawyers to recount what happened. These sections were deviations from the traditional form of prose, but I enjoyed them as they were only small scenes and helped progress the narrative.
However, whilst I mostly enjoyed Heaberlin’s writing, she also uses lot of short sentences.
This creates a blunt tone. Initially I liked this style. It conveyed Tessa’s adult cynicism and sarcasm. Effectively. It could also create tension. Yet it felt overused. By the end of the novel.
Black Eyed Susans is incredibly sinister and dark. I liked all the twists; I tried to guess throughout what had happened, who was responsible, and why it happened. Unsurprisingly, I guessed incorrectly each time.
I strongly recommend this book, and I’d love to read more from Julia Heaberlin.