Book review: Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Saturday, October 24, 2015 Permalink

I think I’m pretty much the last person in the world to read this book. It was out overseas some time ago so I’d seen lots of US book bloggers rave about it before it was released here in Australia in late August.

The backcover blurb alone had me itching to get hold of it.

The blurb

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 Black-Eyed Susans planted outside Tessa’s bedroom window seem to be a message from a killer who should be safely in prison.

Haunted by fragmented memories of the night when she was attacked and terrified for her own teenage daughter’s safety, can Tessa uncover the truth about the killer before it’s too late?

black-eyed susans

A little more blurb action…

Obviously we didn’t get to know the Tessa / Tessie who existed before she became one of the Black-Eyed Susans, but we meet her just after. After she’s found alive in a grave with victims’ bones and another girl who’s been more recently killed.

We meet the 1995 Tess through a series of interviews she has with her psychiatrist—one of several her hapless family has tried in the lead up to the trial of her attacker. We don’t really get to know her family however, as it’s her lifelong bestie Lydia who plays a huge role in Tess’s life and (she) very much appreciates that Lydia’s behaviour towards her remains unchanged after her ordeal.

Twenty years later the current-day Tess is mother to 15yr old Charlie and finds herself roped into the fight to free the man accused of her abduction (and the murder of her fellow ‘Susans’). Although Tess still remembers little from the time, she can’t help but feel there’s something she’s missing.

My thoughts

I read this book in a night, so obviously it sucked me in. And I did really enjoy it… though my expectations were probably a little too high and it felt a little anti-climatic.

I liked the 16-17 year old Tessie and current day Tess. The latter’s quandary felt very real. She doesn’t want to remember but cannot forget. She has (however) pretty much moved on with her life, though carries with her a sense of responsibility for the ‘Susans’ who didn’t make it.

Her relationship with daughter Charlie, Charlie’s dad and her dottery neighbour all felt very real and I was very impressed with her resilience.

The book was well written and pretty much kept me guessing. However… my biggest frustration was that I felt like I was missing something. We never really learned what happened to Tess. I kept waiting for the ‘reveal’ when we’d find out she’d been held for months, but there’s reference to her (metaphorically) stumbling across one of the other victims (already captured or being captured) and the ‘night’ of her attack. We also don’t learn why the killer dumped the bodies when he/she did (moving the bones from some other site). Unless I missed something…

So there were also (ultimately) a few other unanswered questions but I can’t talk too much about them without giving too much away. I don’t think it’s meant to be confusing, but would be a great book to talk about in a book club or similar.

While it disappointed me a smidge I suspect this was self-inflicted because of my own expectations and I suspect others won’t be similarly afflicted!

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin is published in Australia by Penguin Books and now available.

I received an electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

  • Stormi D Johnson
    October 24, 2015

    Heard good things about this one, it’s been on my list. I hope to read it some day. 🙂

    • Debbish
      October 25, 2015

      Good to hear Stormi. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  • Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)
    October 24, 2015

    Getting this one. Sounds great. I don’t know how you can read a book in an entire night Deb! You’d get on with my sister-in-law.

    • Debbish
      October 25, 2015

      I suspect I skim more than I should Michelle, but I can usually read most books in about 3hrs or so… This one required a dinner break in between…

  • Red Iza
    October 24, 2015

    That’s the problem when a book is so highly praised, makes the buzz all over the net, once you get to read it, it’s hard for that poor book to meet all of our expectations ! I can understand that you wanted to really know what had happened to Tess. I read a mystery book recently (posted the review today) where what really happened was uncovered before the end, it gave a sense of completion.

    • Debbish
      October 25, 2015

      Yes and I felt bad that I found her own experience anti-climatic if she was simply kidnapped for one night and remained clothed and intact. (Which I know is terrible on so many levels!!!!)

  • Char
    October 25, 2015

    I’ve never heard of this book but I’m glad I have. It’s going on the ‘to buy’ list.

    • Debbish
      October 25, 2015

      I’d been coveting it for ages for glad I finally got a chance to read it.

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