Book Review: Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

I checked this out from the library at the request of my mom because she wanted to discuss it with someone. Fair warning: this is NOT a romance. It is a crime drama with a very twisted element of romance to it. Though I usually stick to writing about romance, once in awhile I like to change it up a bit for those readers who like different genres. However, if you’re not one who enjoys dark themes, you may want to skip this post and/or this book altogether.

Trigger warnings: Painful physical and psychological torture, drug dependency, murder, descriptions of dead bodies, and sexual abuse.

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One-Sentence Synopsis
A detective known for bringing down the serial killer who tortured and almost killed him is called in to help find the person murdering young girls. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

PTSD: Maximum Level
Archie Sheridan is a hot mess, addicted to pain pills and very noticeably damaged, as he should be considering that his career in tracking down serial killer Gretchen Lowell culminated in him being her final victim before prison. Though she allowed him to live, his mental state is jacked up, and though he’s competent and smart enough to be brought back on this new case, he spends most of his time high on meds.

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Daddy Issues
Susan Ward is a reporter who’s been requested to follow the case. The media didn’t handle Archie’s previous case well with regards to how they made the police department look, so this time they’re asking for a reporter to get the scoop as it happens. Susan is also getting info on Archie. After all, he’s an interesting figure who’s been to hell and back. But Susan comes with her own baggage as well, namely a need to become involved with older men, sometimes even married ones. She’s not a homewrecker, rather if the situation happens, she latches on to it for her own sense of security.

Heartbroken. Literally.
Reading about Archie in general is like watching a trainwreck. As messed up as he is, he’s an interesting character that draws you in to his mind and his problems. And to be honest, being drawn into his mind made me really uncomfortable in a way that I kind of liked. Yes, he’s haunted by Gretchen and the memories of torture (which the author describes in painful detail…hide your ribs, hide your spleen).

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But it’s not just because the experience was traumatic. There’s also a Stockholm element of attraction there. Archie continues to see Gretchen once a week to get information on the victims she killed and buried that the police never found. Beyond that reason, though, Archie has a strange need to see her and talk to her.

Spoiler: She’s Going to Need a Good Therapist
Susan is a mess, but only mildly so at the beginning. Her past comes to light as the story progresses. She’s damaged, but she’s also kind of fierce and fearless, at least on the surface. She has a definite attraction to Archie, and I liked that you get the feeling that her demons are sort of calling to his.

The Romance Factor
Well…this isn’t a romance novel, but I suppose you could look at it has having a romantic element to it? Even so, it’s not a lighthearted warm fuzzy romance at either end. Susan’s attraction to Archie seems one-sided, though I think there’s room for that to develop, but the younger woman/older man thing is tragic in the context of the plot. And the weird thing Archie and Gretchen have going on? I mean, I know it’s psychologically possible, but it weirded me out. 2/5

The Steam Factor
The plot doesn’t lend itself to any real steam, and while we get a little bit of gritty language describing things that may be happening, we never get those kinds of details. 1/5

Final Thoughts
This type of book is obviously going to score low on romance traits, but the read itself was entertaining if you’re not bothered by violence. I liked the pacing, I liked the side characters, and I like the fact that this book seems to put a new and disturbing twist on the whole serial killer thing. Also, I’m kind of intrigued by a female serial killer. You don’t hear about them often, and so one as a character in a work of fiction is kind of fun…in a dark, psychotic way.

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