There’s an old story about John Ford making the movie Stagecoach. Somebody asked the director why pursuing Indians didn’t just shoot the stagecoach’s horses. Ford answered something like, "Wouldn’t have much of a movie then, would we?" Chelsea Cain‘s thriller Heartsick, similarly asks us to accept some far-fetched premises, but to her credit, the story moves so fast, the implausibilities may not occur to us til later.
For instance, gorgeous serial killer Gretchen Lowell (the sickest villain since Hannibal Lector) kidnaps the head of the police team trying to catch her and tortures him for ten days, before reviving him and turning herself in. Sure, but that’s just the backstory, told in flashback chapters. Archie Sheridan, the cop she tortured, is a mess, addicted to pills years later, yet comes out of retirement when a series of bodies, strangled and bleached, begins to pile up. Sure. A plucky, pink-haired lifestyle reporter for the local paper gets assigned to cover the story, even getting access to Sheridan and his crew. Sure. The reporter’s own past emerges as part of the mystery. Sure.
It seems so unlikely now, but I couldn’t put the thing down. The hold Gretchen still exerts over Archie is haunting, her way of extending his torture. Chelsea Cain’s first book Dharma Girl was autobiographical, about growing up in a commune near Iowa City. She’s dabbled in newspaper work, Nancy Drew parody, and non-fiction. If she wants to stick to thrillers, that’s fine with me.