What is this about?: Tessa is a Susan, a survivor of a serial killer, found in a field of black-eyed Susans. But years later, on the cusp of the execution of the man arrested for the murders, Tessa joins forces with his legal team to prove his innocence because someone has been leaving her black-eyed susans, planting them under her window sill. The book takes us into her past, into the time just before the trial of her alleged kidnapper and killer, and alternates with the present investigation.
What else is this about?: Just what it says on the tin above there.
Should you read: Yes, definitely. It’s an atmospheric thriller, even though I have issues with the ending.
Blurb: For fans of Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn comes an electrifying novel of stunning psychological suspense.
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.
Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.
If there’s one thing Black-Eyed Susans gets right, it’s atmosphere. Using chapters set in the past, just after Tessie (as she was known then) was found in the field of Black-eyed Susans, and the present, where Tessa is fighting to solve several mysteries, the author manages to increase the tension in the story as each chapter finishes, leaving you on edge for the conclusion.
Unfortunately, then the conclusion happens.
Let me go back to the beginning: in the present, Tessa has been asked to re-examine her testimony from all those years ago at the trial of the man she thought kidnapped her and almost killed her. It seems he might be innocent. As the only survivor, her testimony was important to his conviction and finally, Tessa has agreed to help the team of lawyers behind his bid for freedom. Thing is, someone has been planting black-eyed susans into every place she’s moved for the last couple of years, and she’s convinced herself it’s someone else, some crazy person. But now she’s beginning to doubt herself and her testimony.
Which brings up to Tessie, with whom we travel the road to recovery through her therapy sessions. She’s trying to hold it together, as much as she resents having to go see a psychiatrist. But she’s there every week, and aided by her friend Lydia, she tries to convince the psychiatrist she’s okay. It’s remarkable insight into Tessa’s past, that effectively makes you understand why Tessa didn’t initially want to get involved in the present day case – she doesn’t want her almost-killer to be out there, alive still.
Slowly but surely, the author builds the story, throwing doubt and confusion in Tessa’s way, making her doubt herself and her sanity. We also get a better sense of her life now, with her daughter and her next door neighbour and simmering romance and can see she’s got a lot to lose – she survived, emphatically, building a life after she almost lost hers.
But, the latter half is where it all falls apart for me. A contrived ending, shoe-horning characters and elevating their importance, when they had none during the entire book AND then, giving readers – ok, me – an unsatisfying conclusion… SIGHS. Talk about wind out of my sails.
This book was genuinely as good as I hoped it would be when I first found it, and I think Tessa is an amazing character. But I can’t get behind that ending. It robbed the book of everything good in it, and moved quickly to tie things up.
Which books do this to you: have a brilliant everything and then the ending happens and you’re WTF was that?!