Mystery Book Review: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Posted July 11, 2019 by shooting in Book Review / 19 Comments

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Review by Lauren

source: library e-copy; all opinions are my own

Official Summary (add to Goodreads): 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.

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Review: This is a book I’ve wanted to read for years, so I was really excited to finally get the chance to do so. Tessa is someone you can really sympathize with – at least the adult version of her. She’s a mom, a hard worker, and she’s come to the point where she thinks the wrong man is behind bars for kidnapping her and murdering others – girls known as the Black-Eyed Susans due to the flowers in the grave they were dumped into. It seems common for mysteries to have the MC be a bit unlikeable, even though they are often the victims of a crime. This is half-way true with Tessa.

The book goes back and forth in time – Tessa is present day and Tessie is her teenage self after she’s been found. Tessie isn’t the most likeable person, but after what she went through (and the fact that she can’t remember much), it makes sense for her to be angry and even lash out. I didn’t think she always treated everyone fairly, but again, whose to judge? Tessie has a best friend named Lydia who does everything she can to treat Tessie like the girl she used to know. Like nothing ever happened. At the same time, Lydia has always been fascinated by murder and mayhem, researching Jack the Ripper and following the OJ Simpson case which is happening around the same time.

Back in the present day, Tessa finally agrees to help a team exonerate the man who was sentenced for the killings. None of them believe he’s the real man, and Tessa is afraid that person is still stalking her, leaving Black-Eyed Susans wherever she goes. Most of the book is an investigation into the murders – identifying the women killed, trying to disprove evidence used in the first trial, and find new evidence to even further back up their claims. The back and forth with Tessa/Tessie was done well; it allowed the reader to get information when they needed it. I do have to point out though, that there is a moment in the book that I feel should have been shared later or not at all because it basically gives the reveal away. This might not be true for every reader, but as soon as I knew this bit of information, I knew essentially what had happened. Regardless, there are some surprises in the end.

19 responses to “Mystery Book Review: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

  1. I love the book based on the cover alone! That’s interesting that you felt a piece of information gave up the ending. I wonder if that was a common response.

  2. This book has been on my TBR since it first came out! I’m not a huge fan of duel timelines or books heavy with legal jargon/investigations, but I think I’d still give this a shot. Sorry to hear that the reveal was given away too soon though!

    Dani recently posted: Let's Look: A Day In The Life
  3. Jen

    Ah I don’t like when books do that either! I get your not loving that aspect. It does sound like a really good book though!

  4. I read this back when it came out and loved it. I should do a re-read by audio someday. I’m trying to remember if I felt that way about the bit of info that gave everything away. I’m wondering if I noticed it, too, lol. Glad you enjoyed this one, too, Lauren! 🙂

  5. Damn, it sounded brilliant apart from giving away the big reveal too early, that’s such a shame because I was absolutely captivated by the synopsis and your review until then. Still sounds like a fascinating read though Lauren and love that cover, it’s very American Beauty. Wonderful review Lauren!

    Kelly recently posted: All That Impossible Space
  6. I’m with Kristin, that cover is enough to entice me. I feel like the back and forth in perspective can be a bit overdone in the genre, but it sounds like this one worked well.

  7. I remember when this came out, thinking it sounded really good- and seeing some good reviews too. Glad to hear you liked it! I need to move it up my list. I like the back and forth too between present day and before- I’m really liking thrillers like that lately!

  8. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this book!!! Thank you so much for sharing this review-totally adding to my Goodreads list. This sounds right up my alley 😉

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