Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Sweetheart" by Chelsea Cain

Det. Archie Sheridan, still in a tortured frame of mind from the time he spent as serial killer Gretchen Lowell's captive, is on the case when several bodies are discovered in Forest Park. It appears they may be linked to the death of a Senator whose car went off a bridge. The other person in the Senator's car was Quentin Parker, mentor to Susan Ward, a journalist who has previously worked with Archie, and who even has a little crush on him.

The case is set aside, however, when Gretchen Lowell manages to escape custody during a prison transfer. Archie becomes willing to sacrifice his own life in order to catch her. Or does he just want to be with her?

I read "Heartsick", which was the precursor to this thriller. It was a fast-paced, entertaining serial killer thriller. I don't think Gretchen Lowell is as fascinating as the author seems to think she is, but it still made for a decent read. The original explored the odd relationship between Archie and Gretchen - he almost needs her in his life, kind of like a drug - but the ending suggested he was moving forward psychologically. Also, that book had a central plotline clearly linked to Archie's bond with Gretchen.

Here, Cain just throws two plotlines together because neither one was strong enough to work as a stand-alone novel. The murders in Forest Park are linked to a story Susan was working on in the first novel, in which a Senator covered up an affair with an underage babysitter. However, Susan seems doggedly determined to complete a story that nobody gives a shit about - not even the police, really. They're happy to throw the murders on the backburner while they pursue Gretchen. If none of the characters care, why should we? It's a barely-developed subplot that mostly just gets in the way and is resolved far too easily. It also has no links to Gretchen's escape from prison. It's just there to fill up the word count.

The main element that unfortunately kills this novel is Archie Sheridan himself. "Heartsick" at least made him somewhat sympathetic. He went through hell with Gretchen. The Stockholm Syndrome-like link he had with her was understandable. The first novel suggested he was ready to leave her behind and focus on mending his relationship with his wife and two kids.

However, cash came calling and Cain has regressed the character entirely. Archie is now a self-pitying martyr who cares more about the safety and welfare of a serial killer than he does his own children. How am I possibly supposed to like him? He uses everybody around him to his own advantage in his single-minded pursuit in being with Gretchen again. I felt absolutely zero sympathy towards him. In fact, I actively disliked him. I couldn't understand why the people in his life kept trying to help him.

As a consequence, I just couldn't care less about the further exploration of his relationship with Gretchen. I didn't care if he killed her, or she killed him. I wasn't too concerned whether or not Det. Harry Sobel, his partner, would save him in time. The multiple sex scenes found in this novel were also highly icky.

There's a very good sequence involving Gretchen going after Archie's kids at school. It worked because the characters were innocent, and it really ratcheted up the tension. More stuff like that could have really helped. Similarly, I liked the character of Susan Ward. Her idiotic character moves in the finale seemed more like the work of an author desperate to find a way to keep things going for a further sequel. As of writing, an Internet search revealed that there are three more books in the series, all featuring Gretchen. The author obviously isn't willing to let this cash cow go.

I'll give it this - it maintained my interest and I read it quickly. But whereas the original was aiming to please readers with some freshness and suspense, this one smacks more of establishing a profitable franchise at the expense of likeable characters or plot credibility.

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