Review

Sweetheart

by Chelsea Cain

If you haven’t read HEARTSICK, Chelsea Cain’s debut
novel, please stop what you’re doing, buy that wonderful
book, crack open the spine and come back when you finish.
You’ll be a little blurry-eyed and surprised by the speed
with which you turn those pages, but you won’t be gone for
long.

SWEETHEART, a title that is by turns appropriate and
oh-so-totally wrong, is a perfect meld of jagged edges. It contains
the salt of The Silence of the Lambs, the pepper of
Basic Instinct and the garlic of Fatal
Attraction
. But the red meat (and there’s plenty of it)
is all Cain’s own. The meat is not so much a bizarre triangle
as it is a rectangle --- or, to put it more accurately, a box. The
corners --- Portland, Oregon detective Archie Sheridan, his
ex-wife, Debbie, reporter Susan Ward and serial killer Gretchen
Lowell --- are so sharp that everyone will get cut before
it’s all over.

SWEETHEART begins a few miles down the road from where HEARTSICK
left off. Lowell is in prison, permitting herself to be captured in
order to save Sheridan’s life. He and his ex-wife are living
together, though their house is a wide harbor where they pass each
other with wide berth. Ward, still nursing unrequited feelings for
Sheridan, has moved in with her mother, a flaky hippy-dippy who is
a realistic, believable caricature of herself. The discovery of a
trio of bodily remains on a hillside, uncomfortably close to where
one of Lowell’s victims was initially spotted, sends Sheridan
reeling on a trajectory toward Lowell once again.

Sheridan, by the way, is a mess. Addicted to Vicodin (partially
as the result of the wounds that Lowell inflicted upon him), he is
struggling in a big way, medicating the pain caused by the
medication he is taking for the pain. When Lowell escapes during a
prison transfer, his obsession for her takes on its own addictive
qualities. Lowell, however, is also addicted to Sheridan in her own
way, with similar jeopardy attaching to her. Physically and
mentally on a downward spiral, Sheridan concocts a plot designed to
capture, and perhaps eliminate, Lowell but at the ultimate personal
cost.

As the climax is played out in a remote Oregon wilderness
against the backdrop of a roaring forest fire, Lowell and Sheridan
do a deadly dance even as Ward races to Sheridan’s rescue ---
an act that may actually put him, and Ward, in greater danger.

Chelsea Cain is a marvel. A journalist herself, she infuses
SWEETHEART with equal parts violence, erotica and mystery to create
another winner that matches the quality of its predecessor. For all
of its incredible plotting and pitch-perfect narrative, however,
the heart of the book is its characterization. You walk away not
only understanding Sheridan’s obsession with Lowell, but also
feeling just a bit of that obsession yourself.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Sweetheart
by Chelsea Cain

  • Publication Date: September 2, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 031236847X
  • ISBN-13: 9780312368470