Click here to read reviewer Dave Roy's take on Heartsick.
Cain’s thriller posits an unusual story: a detective kidnapped by a serial killer. In thrall to his captor, his life is dominated by the traumatic days of systematic torture when she actually kills him, then saves his life. Calling 911 ensures that Gretchen Lowell will be captured but Archie Sheridan will be saved, although the emotional damage he sustains far exceeds the physical pain of his injuries.
Sentenced to life imprisonment, Gretchen spends the following ten years divulging the names and locations of her victims during Sheridan’s Sunday visits. Meanwhile, another serial killer is on the loose, abducting teenaged girls from three local high schools in Portland, Oregon. Called back from leave, the less-than-ready, pill-addicted Archie is the lead detective on the case, aided by an FBI profiler. In addition, for his own reasons, Archie has consented to the involvement of an edgy young reporter, Susan Ward of the Herald.
Susan is writing a four-part human interest story on Sheridan for her paper, hoping to discover something new for public consumption about a man who has survived an incredible ordeal, though at the cost of his wife and children, not to mention peace of mind.
Thanks to the exquisite torture at the hands of the beautiful serial killer, Archie is tied to Gretchen by the intimacy evoked by his imprisonment and the methodical, single-minded destruction of his defenses. A Stockholm Syndrome-like reaction to trauma at its most extreme, all is chronicled in chapters interspersed throughout the book.
Dependent on painkillers to survive after his release from the hospital, Sheridan exists in a narcotic haze, surfacing only to attend to the ongoing investigation and his interactions with the young reporter. Profoundly damaged by his exposure to Gretchen, the serial killer absorbs much of his mental energy, a virtually unbreakable bond forged by the extremity of their days together.
Unique in crime literature, a glamorous, seductive female serial killer is an anomaly, injecting a layer of physicality usually missing in the killer-detective dynamic. Sheridan, the walking wounded, has relinquished real-life connections for a disturbingly dysfunctional fringe existence. His every action is tied to the imprisoned Gretchen, whom Sheridan attends very week in a slow dance of self-destruction.
Susan breaks through Archie’s nearly impenetrable wall, awakening his finer instincts to protect her and bring down this emerging new killer. While Cain’s anti-heroine is a clever approach - one that extends into the next novel, Sweetheart - this exclusive marrying of tortured to torturer is troubling on many levels, an entrée into the darkest regions of the psyche, where unspeakable demons, once unleashed, are impossible to restrain.