Black-Eyed Susans (Heaberlin)

Black-Eyed Susans 
Julia Heaberlin, 2015
Random House
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780804177993

An electrifying novel of stunning psychological suspense.

I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution.

But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter.

Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1960-61 (?)
Where—Decatur, Texas, USA
Currently—lives in Dallas/Fort Worth area, Texas

Julia Heaberlin is the American author of three novels: Playing Dead (2012), Lie Still (2013), and Black-Eyed Susans (2015).

Heaberlin is also an award-winning journalist who has worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Detroit News and Dallas Morning News.

Before launching her career as an author, she was an assistant managing editor over features sections at large metropolitan newspapers. Many of those sections won national and state journalism awards. The Star-Telegram "Life & Arts" section was named as one of the Top 10 sections in the country during her tenure.

Heaberlin has edited real-life thriller stories that inform her writing, including a series on the perplexing and tragic murders of random girls and women buried in the desert in Mexico and another on the frightened women of domestic violence.

She lives with her husband and son in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where she is a free-lance writer and is at work on her fourth book. (Adapted from the author's website. Julia's personal version is HERE.)

Book Reviews
A masterful thriller that shouldn’t be missed....brilliantly conceived, beautifully executed.... [Julia] Heaberlin’s work calls to mind that of Gillian Flynn. Both writers published impressive early novels that were largely overlooked, and then one that couldn’t be: Flynn’s Gone Girl and now Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans. Don’t miss it.
Washington Post

A terrific plot, matched by the quality of the writing and superbly paced tension.
London Times (UK)

A breakout book.... Heaberlin maintains her tight grip on narrative control, expertly maintaining the delightful, nail-biting suspense.... It’s her emerging talent as a masterful storyteller that sets this book apart.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Compelling.... [One of] ten amazing books you need to read this summer.
Cosmopolitan (UK)

[A] gripping psychological thriller.... The suspense builds as Tessie uncovers devastating secrets from the past en route to the shocking ending.
Publishers Weekly

An absorbing character study and a good choice for readers who want to really sink into a psychological thriller.

As the only survivor of a serial killer, Tessa Cartwright has spent the last 20 years trying to forget her past, but when the killer's execution date looms, she begins questioning everything she once believed.... [A] truly compelling tale of the fragility of memory and elusive redemption.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
(Spoiler Alert: If you haven't yet finished the book, many of these questions may reveal more than you'd like them to.)

1. Did you or someone you know experience violent psychic trauma as a child? Based on that, or survivors you see on TV, do you believe there is such a thing as full recovery? Do you believe children are more resilient than adults?
2. Was the doctor helpful to Tessie in their sessions before the trial? Do you believe in repressed memory and the techniques to unlock them?
3. How do you relate to Tessa's relationship with her teen-age daughter?
4. Tessa was conflicted about the death penalty. Are you for or against it? Did this book change your mind a little one way or the other? Have you ever made a stand beyond stating your opinion? Does it irritate or inform you when friends use Facebook as their forum? If you live in Texas, were you surprised about the matter-of-fact way an execution plays out in the middle of Huntsville?
5. What was your favorite "Southern moment" in Black-Eyed Susans?
6. How do you think forensic scientists and death penalty lawyers emotionally survive a career where death is a constant? Could you do it?
7. Was Tessie always in the right when it came to her relationship with Lydia?
8. Was there more darkness or light in Lydia? Tessa? Do you think most human beings, in a tough situation, will do what serves them, or what is really right?
9. What do you think of the idea laid out in this book—that voices in your head, especially of someone you love who has died, can be more productive than destructive?
10. When do you think a person's true nature, and the nature of a friendship, is mostly likely to be revealed?
(Questions from the author's website.)

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