Seventeen-year-old Tessa, dubbed a 'Black-Eyed Susan' by the media, became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer. Her testimony helped to put a dangerous criminal behind bars - or so she thought. Now, decades later, the case has been reopened and the black-eyed Susans planted outside Tessa's bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison. Tessa agrees to help with the investigation, but she is haunted by fragmented memories of the night she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter's safety. Can she unlock the truth about the killer before it's too late?
BLACK-EYED SUSANS is a full arc crime novel. There is the immediacy of the act and recovery for the victim and then there is hindsight through to resolution. Tessa is a grown adult with a child of her own in alternating scenes of this novel. Whilst the killer in this read has attacked multiple victims this is not a serial killer novel. BLACK-EYED SUSANS has resonance with the “after”; as in what happens to child victims of crime; how do their lives go on, does it forever after affect their development into adults and the fact that the bulk of their life is being lived after experiencing such horrific trauma.
There is nothing wrong with a slow build, that being the usual framework of a suspense novel after all, but there can be such thing as too much navel gazing when a novel is written in first person narrative. BLACK-EYED SUSANS has many strengths but loses some pace in the final quarter as we are being guided towards discovery. Our protagonist has been watching her back and jumping at shadows for a very long time since she was taken in childhood so as Tessa begins to question her own long thought and cemented assertions, the process is a little drawn out.
Author Julia Heaberlin has created an “everyperson” novel and that is the prime appeal of this read. There is nothing unusual or exceptional about Tessa as a child and she hasn’t developed superhero abilities as part of her recovery; she has lived her life never being sure of what exactly happened and begins to question her own reactions and processes in relation to who was around her at the time of the crime, and to who is sharing her life now in the present.
As a final note, props to the designer of the cover! The distinctive cover art of this book has repeatedly caught the eye of this reviewer in online publications.