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If You’ve Ever Wanted A Female Hannibal Lecter: Chelsea Cain’s Archie and Gretchen Books


Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

The Chelsea Cain books that I’ve read remind me of The Silence of the Lambs, but with a beautiful, educated woman in place of Hannibal Lecter.  I’ve read the first three in the Archie and Gretchen series. I can’t get into the second and third books too much today without spoiling things for you, but I’ll take you through the first and give you a slight push of encouragement.

So here’s the least you need to know about Heartsick, the first book in the series.

Gretchen Lowell is a beautiful psychopath (and psychiatrist) who abducts people and then kills them in all manner of gruesome ways. She doesn’t seem to fit any sort of profile. An equal opportunity killer whose unpredictability makes profiling her nearly impossible. The fact that she’s a woman is also highly unusual for a prolific serial killer. (or so I’m told over and over in the book).

She comes into detective Archie Sheridan’s life when he is searching for the person who is committing all of the crimes. She offers to help.

Without telling you exactly how or why, I’ll say that she is eventually revealed, but not before she grabs the detective and gives him some of the most unpleasant and damaging days of his life.

Then she lets him go and turns herself in.

For the rest of the book, and the next two, Sheridan is obsessed with catching her, but he also needs her in some sick way. Despite what she did to him, he can’t stop thinking about her, about their time together, etc. Stockholm Syndrome gone mad, or something like that.

Here’s where the Silence of the Lambs parallel gets a little more overt. He needs to find Gretchen again so that she can help him find another killer. Again, it’s not a bad thing. I whipped through Heartsick and the next two books very quickly, alternating between enjoying myself immensely and rolling my eyes and thinking “I wonder why I haven’t quit reading this yet?”

To the surprise of probably nobody, the next two books, Sweetheart and Evil at Heart are more of Archie and Gretchen’s on-again, off-again relationship as she escapes, he catches her, she gets way/he lets her go, and around and around and so on.

Oh, there’s also an annoying little reporter character that I have not grown any fonder of with three books. But maybe that’s just me. If you are not immediately put off by the subject matter, I think you’ll find something to like here, if you’re a fan of thrillers. They aren’t super-duper earth-shattering works of literature, but they don’t pretend to be. They’re fun, easy books that I really enjoyed losing a few hours in.

A quote from Stephen King on the Chelsea Cain books:

“We’ve been down Hannibal Lecter Avenue many times, and these two books shouldn’t work…but they do. Chalk it up to excellent writing and Cain’s ferocious sense of humor.”

Chuck Palahniuk likes her too, if you’re looking for one more author’s opinion to make up your mind!


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  • Mary October 9, 2011, 6:23 pm

    I listened to Heartsick on CD and loved it!