Chelsea Cain’s serial killer thriller Heartsick has hit big. It’s everywhere, pimped to the fullest extreme at every major bookstore, ranked high on Amazon and making its best of ’07 List, and it has Youtube videos as part of its promotion. It is a juggernaut and Chelsea Cain will be huge.
It is also one of the worst things I have ever read in quite some time, and this review is a warning to stay away from it. If it is given to you by a friend, end that friendship, if it is given to you by family, divorce yourself from them. It is that bad.
It begins like most serial killer thrillers end, our intrepid hero, usually a police officer, outs the killer in a place meant to build tension, usually the home of the killer so they have home field advantage, but Heartsick’s protagonist Portland Police Department detective Archie Sheridan is out-played by female serial killer and psychologist Gretchen Lowell* who was the psychologist on the task force to catch the killer that she turned out to be, and taken captive to be tortured and killed.
It is a Frankenstein monster of a book, taking from other, superior books and movies to create a novel sure to appeal to the type of readers that like their books slight but gory, bloated but dumb and easy to read. These are the people that made James Patterson huge and made the once great character Hannibal Lector into a parody of himself and trapped Thomas Harris. It is a glossy piece of crap, with false characters and no soul, born only to get big sales.
There are no original characters in Heartsick, Archie Sheridan is a grizzled pill-popping brilliant detective who is sarcastic and just needs a hug. Like Dr. Gregory House. Gretchen Lowell is an amalgam of two very famous fictional killers, Hannibal Lecter and Basic Instinct’s Catherine Tramell. As a result, these characters aren’t really characters, but creations meant to be seen as familiar, and therefore, nice and easy to read.
Hannibal Trammel holds Detective House in her basement for ten days in her basement and tortures him, breaking him physically and mentally, and much has been written about these scenes, but if you’re a horror fan, you’ve seen much worse violence done to a human being, and especially in the recent horror thrillers Hostel 1 and 2. Of course, the torture can’t be too bad, because that would prevent Detective House and Hannibal Trammel from trading pithy remarks at each other. It would have been so much more effective if Cain had only talked about Detective House’s torture and not actually written it, a reader’s imagination would fill in the blanks and most likely paint a better picture of it themselves.
I’m not even a horror fan, and I found the torture scenes boring and toothless.
Cut to two years later..
Detective House is a pill popper, he’s left the police, and he’s dealing with the pain in his body and his memories of those days with Hannibal Trammel, and Trammel is in prison for life. It seems that she brought Detective House to the brink of death and then revived him, calling an ambulance, she is arrested and Detective House is rescued, but ruined for life. And wouldn’t you know it, the police want their brilliant detective back to catch a serial killer who is abducting, raping, and killing teenage girls. Our killer on the loose just needs love. Seriously, that’s his motivation.
During the investigation, a reporter tags along, sent by her paper to profile Detective House. Her hair is dyed pink and she smokes pot and has trust and daddy issues. These things come up quite a bit about her, and I groaned whenever she came into a scene.
Plot holes and coincidence run rampant through the whole thing. For example, did you know you could go to a maximum security prison, and grope and make out with a convicted serial killer? At three in the morning! Or that a job-less killer has enough medical supplies to keep somebody alive during and after a splenectomy? Or that the fact that she can’t get a morphine drip for her captive, but can get major antibiotics?
It fails as a mystery, as logically their can only be one suspect, and you’ll peg it as soon as they’re revealed as a character. Of course, the killer is connected to Detective House, Hannibal Trammell and Pink Haired Reporter. Sure, there’s a red herring, but any idiot could see through the fake-out.
Built on whoppers of coincidences, boring violence, and stock characters, Heartsick tumbles over like a house of cards during an earth-quake. Sadly, I’m not the least bit surprised that it’s a hit. Towards the end of the first act, Hannibal Trammel whispers to Archie “Whatever you think this is going to be like…it’s going to be much worse”
Heed that advice and avoid this book.
1 OUT OF 10
*Just one of the many plot holes. Towards the middle of the book, Trammel reveals she was never a psychologist and just read some books. Are the Portland police dumb enough not to check the backgrounds of people they let work with them?