‘Black Eyed Susans’ by Julia Heaberlin


‘I am the star of the tabloids headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.
Left with three other girls in a grave shrouded by black-eyed Susans, Tessa alone survived, her testimony helping to put a killer behind bars.
Now, sixteen years later, he is about to be executed. But Tessa feels no relief.
Because someone is planting black-eyed Susans outside her window. Someone is sending her daughter sinister messages. And there’s a lawyer telling her the man about to be put to death is innocent. 
Which can only mean one thing: the wrong man has been sentenced, the real killer is out there and Tessa might not be the last Black-Eyed Susan.’

Proclaimed by Simon Mayo as the “thriller of the year”, ‘Black eyed Susan’ has already established a large reputation, and therefore high expectations to live up to. For me, the two main things I look for in Suspense fiction are that it keeps me guessing all the way through and that the ending is satisfying enough. 

With regards to former, I was not disappointed. Heaberlin clearly has a talent for structuring her story in such a way that you are fed pieces of the puzzle in such a disarray that you don’t begin to see anything like the whole picture until the final few chapters. The constant switch between the main character, Tessa, as she is in the present and how she was following the attack in 1995 keeps the reader on their toes and searching vainly for any clue. The different points of view are probably the books strongest point as the different styles provide fresh new insight and give the impression that you are looking at different statements in the case and that somewhere buried in each account the killer is lurking. 

The story itself is interesting enough. Everyone loves a good murder mystery and the fact we have a narrator with a questionable reliability who seemingly doesn’t want to remember what really happens to her provides an intriguing insight. This isn’t just another detective novel with a grumpy, antisocial policeman or private detective stumbling around piecing together the events and handing it to you on a neat little platter at the end. The main character is instead a victim vainly searching within herself for the truth, fueled by guilt and the desire to right her past wrongs. This perspective adds a unique purity which I think makes it a lot more accessible as a reader. 

That being said, this book wasn’t perfect for me, not by a long shot. I loved reading it and could barely put it down but I have to say the ending was more than a little bit disappointing for me. To have gotten through the book and loved every second of it and to get to the end and realise that Tessa could have had a happy peaceful life this entire time but, because of the selfish actions of a former friend, had lived in fear. Perhaps I could have dealt with the ending if there had been some form of consequence for Lydia, but the  fact that she swans off into the sunset, smug and living in her delusional dream world where she’s the heroine and all her actions nothing short of saintly… well it’s incredibly frustrating as a reader who’s gotten this far hoping for some sort of justice and is instead just told no. Even the survival of Terrell seems empty and anti-climatic.

To be honest, I did love the book but the ending just ruined it for me. A bit disappointing to get that far and have such a flat ending. I can’t help but think it would have been better if Tessa had actually been crazy and it had all been in her head. 

I would have loved to have given this book a really good rating, but because of the ending I just can’t. It was five stars right up until the last 15 or so pages, which is a shame because until then it was brilliant. 

3 stars


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