Set in 1995 and the present day, suburban Fort Worth, Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin is narrated in flashback sequences by Tessie and *Tessa (*as she now calls herself) respectively.
Seventeen year old Tessie is the sole survivor of the 'Black-Eyed Susans' serial killer who left her for dead and buried under a mound of Black-Eyed Susans flowers. Tessie cannot remember anything about the missing 32 hours of her kidnapping or how she ended up being buried alongside the rotting corpse of another victim.
Through therapy sessions Tessie is encouraged to work through her ordeal and remember key information to help identify her abductor and bring him to justice. She is somewhat coerced into testifying against Terrell Darcy Goodwin the man accused of her abduction who is sentenced and incarcerated on death row awaiting the date of his execution.
One of the most important relationships is between Tessie and her best friend, Lydia. Heaberlin effectively uses scenes from the past and the present to build a gradual piecing together of events and the strange intense but supportive relationship between the girls.
Fast forward seventeen years and Tessie who now prefers to call herself Tessa is the mother of a teenaged daughter. She is still haunted by memories from the past and is unsure that the right man has been convicted. With the date of Terrell's execution looming ever closer she becomes increasingly more concerned that he may indeed be innocent. If he isn't guilty then the killer is still out there. A terrifying thought for Tessa who now not only fears for herself but also for her daughter, Charlie.
The characterisation in this thriller is first class. The characters are well-drawn and believable, easy to picture as real people in totally plausible scenarios. Julia Heaberlin certainly did a vast amount of research regarding therapy recovery, forensic and DNA investigative detection, and life for inmates on death row making it a fascinating, educated, highly absorbing read that I struggled to put down for any length of time. Any free moment was spent with my head in this book.
Black-Eyed Susans is Julia Heaberlin's third book, and in my opinion, by far her best. Intense, creepy and atmospheric, Black-Eyed Susans is a intelligent character driven masterpiece excellently paced with some great plot twists which had me guessing right to the very end ... brilliant!
I will not be able to look at the yellow daisies I walk past each day without thinking about Julia Heaberlin's thriller for a very long time.