Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

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10/10. Vivid and jumps out from the shelf.

“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 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?”

I stumbled upon Black-Eyed Susans somewhat by chance, when I was walking past a Waterstones and my best friend pointed out the book displayed in the window. Bolstered by her claim that it was supposed to be really good and my curiosity piqued by the intriguing title, I took a chance and bought a copy. I’ll tell you now: it’s one of my best impulse purchases to date.

Readers, I loved it. I LOVED it. I had recommended it to 10 people by the time I was  20 pages in. I spent every spare moment reading. I silenced people who tried to talk to me whilst I was reading. In short: I enjoyed this book more than any others that I’ve read recently. Sorry, heaving bookcase, but it’s true: Julia Heaberlin is a genius.

Lest I gush much more, let me set the scene: years after surviving a serial killer’s attack, Tessa – then Tessie – finds patches of the eponymous flowers planted at her home. It’s not the first time that this has happened – she’s seen the unusual flowers, which only flourish in certain areas, at other places that she’s lived or been connected to, many times before. Her supposed killer sits behind bars, but the flowers, and the lack of evidence that convicted the criminal, has haunted Tessa for years.

Growing less and less convinced that she put the right man away, Tessa casts her mind back to all those years ago when, following the attack, she overcomes temporary blindness and jumbled recollections of that night by talking the traumatic event through with a therapist. Supported by her slightly morbid best friend, Lydia, while the American media scrutinises the only surviving ‘Susan’ – so-named from the flowers in the shallow grave that she nearly died in – Tessie tries to sort through what really happened.

Back in the present day, new forensic evidence discovered by state-of-the-art DNA testing throws new light on the case. Torn between confusion, fear and a desire to protect her daughter from harm, Tessa is forced to conclude that she doesn’t know the truth about everything that happened that night – and that her killer is still be out there…

Tense, pacy and compelling, Black-Eyed Susans is a taut psychological thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Julia Haeberlin masterfully ramps up the suspense gradually, building to an explosive denouement that you won’t see coming. Quite simply, the best thriller you’ll read this year – perhaps decade. Miss it at your peril.

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