I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Black-Eyed Susans follows a similar plot to quite a few recent releases in the genre; girl is captured or attacked (or, in this case, left for dead in a ditch surrounded by the other victims’ bodies). She survives and goes on to forge a decent life for herself, but years later her past comes back to haunt her. It could have been formulaic, but it’s not. This is a taut, tense and dark psychological thriller, one of the best I’ve read this year.
Almost 20 years ago, Tessa Cartwright was left to die with a group of other young female victims, dubbed the ‘black-eyed Susans’ due to the flowers which grew near their make-shift grave. Tessa is the only survivor. A man named Terrell Goodman was convicted, but as Tessa looks back years later she feels she was coerced into giving a damning testimony in court, when in fact she remembers nothing of the events which lead up to her rescue.
The story is told from two perspectives; Tessie (as she was known then) aged 17 immediately following the incident, and Tessa present day. In the past, she is having regular meetings with a therapist in an attempt to come to terms with her trauma and ready her for court. In the present, she’s going through it all again, as she discovers the Black-Eyed Susan plant growing outside her window out of season, and is convinced the killer has planted them. She agrees to help a team of lawyers who are working to free Goodman from death row, and in turn find the real killer.
The characters in this novel were brilliant, particularly Tessa both past and present. Her younger self is so raw; at 17, there’s a naivety about her despite the fact that she’s experienced trauma far beyond her years. She has all the elements of a typical stroppy teenager, but something much darker shapes her actions. Her present-day character is still haunted, and regularly hears the voices of the other Susans who died beside her. She becomes fixated on freeing the man she originally sent to jail, in order to provide herself and the other girls – who she never knew alive but feels inextricably tied to – with justice. The supporting characters are all equally well-drawn; the lawyer, the forensic analyst, the therapists and Tess’as old best friend Lydia; loyal, quirky and complex. There is a small element of romance which I didn’t feel was particularly needed, but it doesn’t overtake the story and contributes to the character development, so I can’t complain too much.
It’s a tense, creepy read with Tessa’s paranoia gradually increasing as she comes closer to the truth. The two time frames complement each other, slowly revealing pieces of the puzzle which has remained unsolved and unfinished for two decades. It’s one of those novels where you can’t really say much about the plot itself – it’s best you read it with as little preconceptions as possible, so that you can make your own decision on who you think the killer might be. But, whether you figure it out or not, the writer has you rooting for Tessa, building an emotional involvement so you’ll be desperate for her to find the truth and get her closure once and for all.