Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

Chelsea Cain books appeal to a wide variety of readers, from people who aren’t necessarily horror fans and usually read books like Tuesdays with Morrie to hardcore horror aficionados. Whichever camp you fall into, Cain’s “Beauty Killer” serial killer books promise to entertain and shock you.

The third novel in the “Beauty Killer” series, Evil at Heart, is no less tense than Cain’s previous two efforts – Heartsick and Sweetheart – and continues the saga of infamous and gorgeous serial killer Gretchen Lowell. As with all of Cain’s books, I could not put down Evil at Heart!

The book picks up two months after Gretchen Lowell escaped prison and Detective Archie Sheridan, who had a very complicated relationship with Gretchen, is in the loony bin. Archie is drawn back out after bodies, each with Gretchen’s signature hearts accompanying them, start popping up again. Joining Archie are Detective Henry Sobol and Oregon Herald reporter Susan Ward,  who discover that a network of Gretchen Lowell “fan clubs” have sprung up. Could there be a copycat killer or is Gretchen finally back to her old ways?

Evil at Heart is a relentless read that begs to be read from start to finish. The book opens with a bang as eyeballs and other body parts are found at a rest stop restroom outside Portland and it’s not long after that when bodies gruesomely start showing up at Gretchen’s old crime scenes. Cain definitely has some great tableaus of gore in Evil at Heart, gruesome enough for an old gorehound like me to be impressed!

Cain lessens these horrific scenes with humor peppered throughout the novel and a social commentary on how the media tends to glamorize villains. The book describes how Gretchen Lowell has become a media sensation – she is plastered over every magazine and newspaper, women get the “Beauty Killer” manicure (pink nails with blood red French tips), coffee cups that say “I’d kill for some coffee” with Gretchen’s picture on them are sold, women cut and dye their hair like Gretchen’s, tour buses take tourists to her crime scenes and there is even a movie being made about her. This makes for some darkly humorous commentary on our own society and our own anti-heroes we tend to sensationalize.

Many characters from the past two books return, namely detectives Henry and Archie and spunky journalist Susan, and it’s nice to see them all back. Gretchen isn’t featured as much in this novel, but her eventual appearance will leave you riveted! To understand the characters, it does help to have read Cain’s past two novels but even if you haven’t Cain takes the time to explain the relationships between the characters and some of their pasts so you get the general gist of the series. Cain also introduces some intriguing new characters, some who are into scarification, suspension and other body modification cultures – and she gives us plenty of squirm-inducing descriptions of these practices as well!

The story itself is fast-paced and entertaining. I really wasn’t joking when I said I couldn’t put it down – I so desperately needed to find out what was going to happen that I finished it in a day! Now, you may want to take your time and really drag out the suspense, but I just couldn’t wait! And the ending is quite a doozy, filled with a mysterious revelation that I can’t wait to see what Cain does with in her next book!

Evil at Heart is another “Beauty Killer” novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat and is highly recommended for all Gretchen Lowell fans, whether you’re a horror fan or not!

Order it on Amazon!

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