Chelsea Cain’s fun, twisted mysteries

chelsea_cain

If you haven’t checked out author Chelsea Cain’s series of crime novels centering on Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, you’re missing one of the most interesting and offbeat partnerships in crime fiction.

But if you think Archie and Gretchen are a crime-solving duo like Patrick and Angie in Dennis Lehane’s series, you’re wrong.

Archie is a Portland cop and Gretchen is the infamous Beauty Killer, a stone-cold beautiful female serial killer.

Gretchen, in years pre-dating most of the books, killed dozens – maybe even hundreds – of people. And in the most gruesome ways imaginable. We’re talking neckties made of intestines here.

She also very nearly killed Archie, who as the series began was recuperating from the double-whammy laid on him by Gretchen. Archie and other cops consulted with Gretchen on a series of slayings and Archie cheated on his wife with the blonde bombshell. Only afterward did he find out that Gretchen was the killer. And he found out when Gretchen drugged and kidnapped him.

Gretchen tortured Archie for days, keeping him barely alive and getting him hooked on powerful pain killers. During their time together, Gretchen left Archie with permanent scars, including one heart-shaped one carved into his chest. It’s a Beauty Killer trademark.

Although Gretchen is eventually captured and put in prison, Archie’s dealings with her don’t end. That’s because she prolongs their meetings by parceling out information about other killings. It’s an opportunity for Archie to close cases and give some relief to still-grieving families.

But it’s also Archie’s opportunity to be near Gretchen. Archie has a very real fatal attraction to the Beauty Killer. It’s an attraction that threatens to ruin any chance of reconciliation with his wife, wreck a budding relationship with Susan, an endearing if oddball young newspaper reporter, and harm his relationship with his stalwart and supportive partner, Henry.

Cain writes with a level of gore and kink that will drive some readers away and appeal to many others. Her characters are totally sympathetic – well, not Gretchen. Not much anyway – and compelling.

kill you twice

Cain has a new book in the series due out this summer, but I just finished the most recent, “Kill You Twice,” and there’s a Hannibal Lecter element to the book that most of the entries in the series don’t have. (And don’t need.) It’s a great yarn about another serial killer on the loose and that murderer’s ties to Gretchen.

If you have a taste for some twisted mystery, check out Cain’s books. I recommend reading them in order, though, starting with 2007’s “Heartsick.” There are five so far, and you might find yourself racing hungrily through them.

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