After serial killer Gretchen Lowell finished “playing” her latest psychological and physical games with homicide detective Archie Sheridan there wasn’t much left of his former life. In addition to Gretchen costing him his family, job and mental stability, Archie must battle an addiction to painkillers thanks to a basement spleenectomy, nearly having his jugular severed along with Gretchen’s trademark heart craved into his chest. Its little wonder Archie checked himself into the psychiatric ward of Portland, Oregon’s Providence Medical Center.
A gruesome discovery at a roadside rest area leads officials to suspect Gretchen has returned to her old tricks but just to be sure, detective Henry Sobol decided to get Archie’s opinion. Oddly obsessed with the serial killer despite all that she has done to him, Archie is the acknowledged expert on Gretchen’s MO. Chillingly, there appears to be a copycat killer or worse, perhaps an entire group emulating her style and no wonder when the media has turned her into the latest sensation. Everything from coffee mugs and tee shirts to manicures are being marketed with Gretchen likenesses, there are even bus tours of her murder sites.
After a phone tip led journalist Susan Ward to the site of another murder, Henry and Archie realize the only thing worse then Gretchen returning to her old ways is having to simultaneously cope with an unidentified copycat. With Henry and Susan’s able assistance, Archie closes in on his prey and discovers the heart of evil is even darker then he imagined.
Cain’s excellent new addition to the Sweetheart series adds welcome complexity with the element of copycat killers plus a bit of social commentary on American’s fascination and hero worship of shallow, even contemptuous “beautiful” people. Susan takes larger role in this fast paced, sometimes grisly murder mystery balanced by quick wit and snappy dialog. Although this could stand alone, readers will get a better picture on what makes the main protagonists tick by reading Sweetheart and Heartsick first.