Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

January 5, 2010

sweetheart Plot summary (with spoilers): Portland homicide detective Archie Sheridan is slowly trying to piece his life back together after 10 horrific days of captivity and torture at the hands of Gretchen Lowell, also known as The Beauty Killer. Archie is back at work, has just captured the so-called After School Strangler a couple months ago, and is trying to repair his relationship with wife Debbie and children Ben and Sara. He has even stopped going to the prison to visit Gretchen every weekend, apparently giving in to Debbie’s ultimatum.

But the signs of strain are still present, particularly in Archie’s continued reliance on pills. Though he has “cut back” on vicodin and codeine, he still needs them to get through even the most mundane tasks. So when another three bodies are discovered in Forest Park and the Portland police believe they might be dealing with a serial again, Archie is back to popping extra doses in no time.

Meanwhile, Gretchen, who apparently can’t function properly without seeing Archie every weekend, contrives to get him to visit her again. This time, she claims to have been raped, and plays to Archie’s obvious sympathies while he’s at the prison. Archie’s partner Henry isn’t having any of it, however. He sees that Gretchen is taking advantage of Archie, sees that Archie is falling for it, and immediately orders that Gretchen be transferred and that Archie be banned from seeing her.

In typical “thriller” fashion, Gretchen escapes during the transfer (you didn’t see that one coming, did you?). Instead of worrying about Gretchen returning to finish the job she started before landing in prison, Archie longs — yes, actually longs — for her call. He tells himself it’s because he wants to capture her, but it’s really because he can’t get enough of her. When the call inevitably comes, Archie goes willingly to Gretchen. They subsequently shack up — and fuck. (I’m usually not that crass, but there’s really no other way to describe the scenario.)

While these two are getting each other off, Henry and the rest of the Portland PD, along with reporter Susan Ward who again manages to worm her way into a high-priority investigation, are busy trying to track Archie — and by extension, Gretchen — down. As the novel plods to its end, the original murders are cleared up, but Gretchen somehow manages to escape and remain at large (*gasp*).


  • If nothing else, I enjoyed the pace of this book. It was fast moving, and didn’t veer off into any unnecessary subplots. Some parts were even engrossing, and I felt compelled to keep on turning the pages at a few points along the way.


  • I’m sorry, but there is just no way in HELL I can buy for one second that Archie is so obsessed with Gretchen that he can only get hard when fantasizing about her and that the first thing he does after being reunited with her is fuck her several times in one night. Gimme a break — that is so utterly absurd that it makes the other parts of Gretchen’s character (that she supposedly killed 199 people and that she’s so drop-dead gorgeous and manipulative that she can get men to do anything for her, including kill others and themselves) seem almost believable by comparison. What a massive miscalculation on Cain’s part to base her novel on this premise.
  • Do they allow serial killers access to netbooks and the internet in Cain’s world? Because how else would Gretchen have possibly been able to know exactly what was going on with Archie, Susan, and the investigation? Even her prison guard minions wouldn’t have been able to tell her that much.
  • Why was Susan Ward even involved in this book? Apparently Cain thinks Susan is a great character, because there was really no point to her being here otherwise. In the first novel, she was writing a profile of Archie, so her presence made sense. But this time? Uh uh. She and her stupid blue hair (along with her idiotic crush on Archie) were a waste of space.
  • Speaking of Susan, I practically laughed out loud in the scene at the cabin when the all-powerful Gretchen compelled Susan to unlock her handcuffs. Geez, is Henry the only one immune to her spell? What a crock!
  • Coincidences and last-second rescues abound in this book, like when Bliss arrived just in time to save Susan from the carbon monoxide poisoning. BTW, I don’t even understand how that scene was supposed to work. The bad cop locked Susan inside her mother’s house by taking her keys away? WTF? I can see how you might be locked inside a closet or a room, but inside a house? You can ALWAYS open the doors from the inside without keys. That part just made zero sense.
  • I called the unidentified Forest Park body as being Molly Palmer the minute Susan couldn’t reach her on the phone. Yawn.
  • I thought Archie was an interesting character in Heartsick, but he dropped down into the “despicable” category now. There’s just no excuse for his actions in this book. Not even Stockholm Syndrome can adequately explain what he did.

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain was filled with far too many unlikely, unbelievable, and coincidental occurrences to make the story the least bit enjoyable. I’m not sure why Cain’s works keep making the Amazon.com “Best of” lists, but I should probably stop relying on those for reading material. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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