Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

March 7, 2010

evil at heart Plot summary (with spoilers): The action of this novel takes place a few months after what happened in Sweetheart (book 2 of the series). Serial Killer Gretchen Lowell is again on the loose in the Portland area, while homicide detective Archie Sheridan is in a mental hospital recovering from his wounds and addictions — both to Vicodin and to Gretchen herself.

While Archie is in the hospital, some travelers come across a gruesome discovery at an interstate rest stop: they’ve found what appear to be eyeballs and a spleen stuffed into one of the toilets. Archie’s former partners from the Beauty Killer Task Force, Henry and Claire, arrive on the scene, and fear that Gretchen Lowell might be up to her killing ways again — particularly since one of the bathroom walls was decorated with hundreds of tiny red hearts, which of course was Gretchen’s signature. Henry gets Archie to leave the hospital in order to check out the crime scene too. Archie wonders if this was really Gretchen’s work. After all, they had a pact and Gretchen promised not to kill anyone else.

While the eyeball investigation stalls, the cops soon have other problems to worry about. That’s because dead bodies begin popping up at various locations around the city. The bodies are not fresh kills, but rather have been exhumed. And they’re being left at former Gretchen Lowell crime scenes. Is this Gretchen, just screwing around with the cops, flaunting all the dead bodies that they never found? Or is something else going on here?

Newspaper reporter Susan Ward soon gets involved because of an anonymous tip that leads to yet another body, and before you know it, she and Archie are off tracking down leads on their own. Archie has a feeling that Jeremy Reynolds, the only other Gretchen victim to survive (a fact never made public to the media), might be involved.

That is indeed the case. The rest of the novel then deals with Archie and Susan trying to figure out why Jeremy is acting out now, and what his ulterior motive might be. In addition, Archie still wants to capture Gretchen, who has had an iron grip on his life for far too long.


  • Susan Ward was actually likable in this novel! I had come to pretty much hate her after Sweetheart, what with all the endless descriptions about how cool she is with her wild hair colors, skechers shape ups, and weird wardrobe, but Chelsea Cain toned the annoying factor waaay down with this character. What a pleasant surprise!
  • Archie seemed more like himself this time around, too. While I could have done without all the “flaccid penis” demonstrations about how he doesn’t care about Gretchen anymore, it was nice to have him functioning almost at a normal level.


  • This book was advertised as Part 3 of the Archie-Gretchen series, but Gretchen is hardly even in it! She makes a few appearances through flashbacks in the early part, but doesn’t actually arrive until the final part of the book. That was kind of a ripoff, if you ask me.
  • The whole Jeremy Reynolds angle was convoluted and boring. What was the point of introducing him into the plot? What was the point of the body suspension crap? Ugh, that whole second act just dragged on and on. I’m surprised I made it all the way through the book.
  • I thought all the descriptions of Portland’s “serial killer fever” were way over the top. I don’t know, even in today’s twisted society, I can’t imagine a place like Portland embracing a serial killer like that. Tours, manicures, posters, billboards, restaurant specials, t-shirts, television shows… gimme a break. I’m sure most people would be scared, not playing cheerleader. I don’t recall this kind of fuss over, say, the BTK killer. Yes, there is a subculture that is into this kind of thing, but Cain wrote as though all of mainstream Portland were involved in celebrating Gretchen Lowell.

I found Evil at Heart to be a disappointing entry into the Archie-Gretchen series. I’m not even sure why I continue reading these books, as none of them has really grabbed my attention in a positive way. I guess this could very well be the last one I pick up. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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