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Black-Eyed Susans

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For fans of Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn comes an electrifying novel of stunning psychological suspense.

I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.
As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.
Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.
What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.
Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

354 pages, Hardcover

First published August 11, 2015

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About the author

Julia Heaberlin

10 books1,866 followers
Julia Heaberlin is the internationally bestselling writer of six thrillers, including WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, a #1 Audible bestseller and the winner of Best Novel by the Writers’ League of Texas. In her latest thriller, NIGHT WILL FIND YOU, an astrophysicist and reluctant psychic explores the controversial, conspiracy-laden case of a lost girl. Heaberlin first broke out with the psychologically dark BLACK-EYED SUSANS, which examines the Texas death penalty and the use of high-tech DNA to identify old bones. SUSANS was published in more than fifteen countries and a top five Times of London bestseller. Heaberlin followed that with the creepy Texas road trip, PAPER GHOSTS, a finalist for Best Hardcover Novel by the International Thriller Writers Awards that has also been optioned for television. Earlier in her career, Heaberlin was an award-winning editor at newspapers that include the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Detroit News, and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently at work on her seventh thriller and lives in Texas, where all her novels are set under its big (and sometimes creepy) sky.

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5 stars
7,410 (22%)
4 stars
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,646 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,009 reviews36k followers
May 26, 2017
Update: Wow... I remember this book!
$1.99 Kindle special today!!! Great psychological thriller!!! I loved it. Reviews are mixed so read through several others. I think it's definitely a worthy read... with a great price tag to match.

Left to die in an abandon field in Texas, Forth Worth, Tessa, (16 years old), is covered in Black-Eye-Susan's...... CREEPY

She opens her eyes... but can't see anything. She is blind.......SCARY

Tessa can't remember anything......DISTRESSED & DISORIENTED

Two years later... Terrell Darcy Goodman is about to be executed.

Jumping decades ahead,.... Tessa's eye sight is back. She's had different types of therapy...
But continues to be haunted by past memories.
She has a 14 year old daughter named Charlie whom she feels frighten for her safely ---
Somebody has been planting 'Black Eye Susan's' under Tessa's window along with
messages. GUESS WHO?

Is it possible that Tessa help put the wrong man behind bars? Maybe Terrell is a *good man*.
The Forensic science pros will look at different types of DNA - which they didn't in years pass --(as it wasn't even an option at the time).

Lydia is Tessa's best friend, since they were 8 years old --- is gone. She's been missing since she testified in court. Her entire family is gone... ( house sold and no contact with Tessa)...Lydia comes back into story 17 years later.

The author, Julia Heaberlin, keeps the suspense unfolding of the why- and who's... alternating past and present...from two points of view: Tessa, and later...Lydia.

This a very unique crime drama/psychological thriller -- without the need of graphic violence.
What I especially liked is this story had me wondering 'what makes people tick'...
and what motivates people to do what they do...
and with gorgeous flowers??? Who does that????

Find out if even the Forensic scientists -- have a theory as to why, the "Black Eye Susan's"? GOOD QUESTION, don't you think?

And.... of course, be prepared... to not be prepared to guess the ending!!!! SURPRISE!

Thank you to Random House/Ballantine books, Netgalley, and Julia Heaberlin! ( an author to read again!)
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,447 reviews7,542 followers
October 7, 2015
EDIT: Because I seriously wrote "outside her winder." WTF kind of hillbilly am I?!?!?!?!

Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“The Susans are a greedy plant, often the first to thrive in scorched, devastated earth. Pretty, but competitive, like cheerleaders. They live to crowd out the others.”

Nearly twenty years ago Tessa Cartwright was labeled ���the lucky one.” Rather than dying with the other ladies who occupied the ditch in which she was dumped, Tessa was rescued. Since then she got on with life as best as she could. She made a life for herself, had a daughter, forged a successful career. But as the countdown begins to the execution of her “monster,” Tessa begins doubting if he actually committed the murders at all – especially when she discovers some new plants growing outside her winder (WINDER??? FFS!) window. In February . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

Gak! I hate reviewing mystery/thrillers – especially the ones I really enjoyed reading. Obviously I can’t say much of anything or I’ll ruin everything and NO once again this wasn’t the next Gone Girl (not nearly twisted enough). However, it was good. The mystery wasn’t handed out on a silver platter, and even if figured out early I don’t think it would stop many people from still enjoying the story. The writing was above par (especially for a mystery/suspense/thriller/whatever) . . .

“What if your monster opened the door right now and walked in? Sat down. Confessed everything. You could see his face. Know his name, where he grew up, if his mother loved him, if his dad beat him, whether he was popular in high school, whether he loved his dog or killed his dog. Imagine he sat in that chair right over there, three feet away, and answered EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR QUESTIONS. Would it really make any difference? Is there any answer that could satisfy you? Make you feel better? . . .

I don’t want to have a conversation with my monster. I just want him dead.”

Black Eyed Susans gets a solid 4 Stars from me – which is pretty rare. Most thrillers get 3 at best from my stingy self. While I was impressed that this book didn’t go 100% Scooby Doo and actually included forensic science and attorneys trying to save the accused serial killer from walking the Green Mile, there were still moments of Tessa sleuthing on her own. And while the pace stayed consistent and the story never lagged, the “a ha” moment dragged out until the last second due to Tessa refusing to use some of the tools she had at her fingertips which could have wrapped things up in a one-hour episode . . .

Chicago commercial photographers

All in all, though, a very good read that I would recommend to mystery lovers.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,736 reviews14.1k followers
August 15, 2015
A big WOW. This book was terrifically suspenseful throughout. So well thought out and plotted, Haeberlin made nary a mistake. Loved the way the story is told, alternating chapters that introduce Tessie meeting with a psychiatrist shortly before the trial of the man identified as the killer, and years later as the man is nearing his execution date and she has doubts about her earlier identification.

So yes very well thought out but also deals with the unreliability and fragility of memories and the problems with eye witness identification. Also included many CSI type elements told in an interesting and prevalent to the story, way. I really enjoyed this book, kept avidly turning the pages to see what happened next. Not your typical, graphic serial killer novel but something a little different. Loved the cover too and doubt I can look at these flowers again without thinking about this book.

ARC from NetGalley.
Profile Image for ♛Tash.
223 reviews211 followers
December 10, 2015
Black Eyed Susans is yet another novel blurbed to be for Gillian Flynn fans. Perhaps it is for other Flynn fans, but not for me.

It had a powerful start, imagine a half-dead girl lying in a field of Black Eyed Susans with a dead girl and two sets of skeletons. She's the surviving Susan and she's eked out a pretty decent life for herself and her teen-aged daughter. That is until the countdown starts for the execution of the man wrongly convicted for the crime. Tessa breaks her silence in the attempt to find the real "monster" and save an innocent man from the gallows.

Unreliable narrators are having their days in the sun ever since Gone Girl, and Tessa is one of them. She is as unreliable as a narrator gets as her thoughts gets confusing with the jumble of imaginary conversations with the Susans and false memories. I do not have any problems following unreliable narrators but the jumpy POV switching of present day and sixteen year old Tessa did become tiresome halfway through the novel. Then further aggravated by more POVs in the last 20% or so. I found the cliffhanger ending of almost each POV a little contrived. With each switch I felt the suspense dying little by little, until all I wanted to do was skip the 16-year old Tessa POV. Speaking of parts I wanted to skip, the unconvincing romance/love triangle could've been done without.

Then there's the anticlimactic af ending. This would've been a three star read had it not been for the most awaited bomb to go thud instead of boom. I wouldn't say it was THAT obvious, but for a careful reader there were clues leading up to it and the discovery doesn't really tie up all the mystery surrounding the Black Eyed Susans.

Perhaps I'm just too jaded or perhaps this genre is too derivative. Most likely the former but Black Eyed Susans is just a two star read for me.
2 feels-like-Danielle-Steele-not-Gillian-Flynn stars.

This started out very strong but kind of fell apart in the middle. That or I may have read this wrong. FRTC
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,637 followers
July 24, 2017
"I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one."

I rarely read thrillers, but based on my limited experience with this genre, I would say that Black-Eyes Susans is a slow burn yet completely gripping story! Probably more my speed - in fact, more like a mystery rather than an intense thriller. At the age of sixteen, Tessie was left for dead in a grave along with the body of a recently killed young woman and a pile of bones with no name attached to them. Now fast forward to present day and Tessie, now called Tessa, is uneasy about her former testimony which put the suspected killer behind bars all those years ago. As the date for Terrell Goodwin’s execution looms near, Tessa is working with a team to piece together evidence that was perhaps superficial at best. The story alternates back and forth between a young Tessie, recovered from the grave and under the care of a psychiatrist both prior to and during the sensational trial, and an older Tessa, now mother of a 14 year old daughter named Charlie. For her daughter’s sake, Tessa wants to make certain that the right person is behind bars and misplaced justice does not end the life of an innocent man. With modern-day forensic techniques and the magic of DNA, much work can be done in the field than ever before. I found the forensics portions of the story to be fascinating – not overly scientific, but just enough to stimulate an inquisitive mind! The unreliability of memory (Tessie lost large portions of her memories of both her abduction and her time in the grave), the disappearance of Tessie’s childhood best friend, and the sinister appearance of a patch of black-eyed susans growing outside Tessa’s window all add to the eerie feeling of suspense in this book!

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a thriller that leans more heavily towards mystery rather than rapid, shocking twists and turns. It’s also great for those that tend to get a little queasy when it comes to the more gruesome kinds of scenes in the thriller-type genre. There is nothing really revolting here to make you wish you hadn’t just devoured your lunch. If you like a little flavor of CSI in your mysteries, this one fits the bill just right! I did feel like there were some holes that weren’t quite patched up enough for me in this book, which is why I am giving this one 4 stars. Perhaps that is the unfortunate side effect with reading a book involving loss of memory – if not all memories are recovered, then the reader is left in the dark a bit as well.

"The Susans are a greedy plant, often the first to thrive in scorched, devastated earth. Pretty, but competitive, like cheerleaders. They live to crowd out the others."
Profile Image for Paula K .
420 reviews424 followers
December 11, 2016
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin is one of the finest psychological thrillers I have read. 17 year old Tessa is found barely alive and buried with other young women later called the Black-Eyed Susans. Tessa is the only survivor. A brilliant, creepy, chilling thriller where the author goes back to the past and to the present 20 years later with great skill. A killer is put in prison after the crime, but who is it planting black-eyed susans under Tessa's window 20-years later?

This is a suspense novel written for intelligent readers who have a love for psychological thrillers. Well researched and one of a kind with many twists and turns.

5 out of 5 stars.
Highly recommend.

Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews511 followers
March 27, 2017
Creepy as creepy gets.

Adult Tessa recounts her ordeal as a sixteen-year-old teen in a grave with four other girls. She was suppose to be dead, with a serial killer on the lose. Due to her fitness, she survived. The only one of the four Black-Eyed Susans who made it.

Seventeen years later someone is planting Black-Eyed Susans in her garden, while an innocent man is probably incarcerated all these years for the crime. His execution date is coming up, his lawyers is fighting to save him, and Tessa's memory is not cooperating, in fact, Tessa herself is not sharing everything she remembers...

Short chapters, fast moving storyline, alternating between the lives of Tessie the teenager, who became Tessa the adult, the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, named Charlie. Time is ticking away. Tessa only remembers fragments of her ordeal.

A psychological thriller as intense, morbid and thrilling as they can get. Mind games(with the reader) abound. Serious issues cover the desks of lawyers, forensic scientists, the Texas government officials. And somewhere in their circle of conduct, a serial killer might be on the lose, watching them, intimidating Tessa and her daughter, while the press hound her once again. That's the only explanation. Yeah, right. Until you reach the ending and everything is not what it's suppose to be.

So yes, haunting, egregious, atmospheric, intense, gripping. I have definitely lost sleep. Lots of it. It was not a gruesome, brutal story at all, though.

Waking up this morning, after a morsel of deep sleep, I was so grateful. I just suddenly realized that the book was finished, I have left the Texas scene. HOME. Man, how I LOVED my world, despite everything.

Yes, you can choose the world's scariest roller coaster ride, or this book. The emotional outcome will be the same. Guaranteed!
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,131 followers
September 1, 2015
Meh. This was just ok for me. It felt like it dragged quite a bit. I enjoyed Tessa from the past way more than present day Tessa. Too much CSI and not enough suspense in my opinion.

Profile Image for Linda.
1,228 reviews1,277 followers
March 19, 2016
Now this was a time-worthy book. We all know the feeling of grabbing a book that is popular and well promoted by its publisher only to be let down and disappointed. This one fills the bill to a tee for an attention-getting storyline.

And while the storyline is quite intriguing, it is Julia Heaberlin's talent for formulating descriptives and delicate passages that showcase her craft. She draws from personalized dialogue, scaling the void from past to present and back again, infusing deep-set scientific research, and evoking pure Texas ingredients.

If there is only one flaw (and it stings the senses), it would be the handling of the ending sequences. Yes, we all feel it personally when an author doesn't wrap up the story to our liking. This one was brilliance throughout until the final details became the act of pairing shoes to fit into the appropriate boxes for the closet shelf. Neat and tidy, but with shoestrings hanging out. You'll know what I mean when you get there.

Heaberlin is gifted. She can really deliver. Can't wait for her next offering.

Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews516 followers
June 24, 2018
Cleverly Crafted Suspense Novel Lost Thrust After Premature Climax
3.5 stars

Black-Eyed Susans is a well-written, clever mystery novel, complete with a best teen buddy, a budding romance and a sexual tension that builds to a palpable purple. On the other hand, excessive flashbacks made the story hard to follow, losing me in large chunks.

After suffering the literary equivalent of untimely emissions, the novel's resolution is largely dubious.
Profile Image for Melissa (Mel’s Bookshelf).
445 reviews286 followers
December 12, 2015
I love a good thriller and was so excited to get an advanced copy of Black-Eyed Susans as I have heard wonderful things about this upcoming book!

Thankfully I was not at all disappointed!

Tessa is only 16 when she is left for dead, the only survivor of a serial killer. The victims are known as "Black-Eyed Susans" - as their bodies were found in a field of Black-Eyed Susan flowers. The story is predominantly told from two perspectives. Tessa at 16 years of age (Tessie), having just survived the terrible ordeal, and also strong, resilient present day Tessa. Tessa in the present day is helping a team of investigators who suspect the man convicted of murdering the Black-Eyed Susans to be innocent. As the countdown to his execution looms closer and closer, Tessa is also fearful they convicted the wrong man, as she has no memory of the incident, but feels he was sent to jail because of her testimony as a teenager. The book flips back and forth in time as details are gradually revealed that lead to the truth.

The characters were great! Young Tessie was so damaged and raw. Having been through such a terrible ordeal, Heaberlin succeeds in making her tortured, believable and likeable. Older Tessa is the star character in the novel for me. I loved how she held herself and how she morphed from the scared teenager into a powerful, strong woman and mother. Her relationship with her daughter Charlie was fascinating and entertaining. They knew each other so well, even though Tessa had not really relayed the details of her past to her daughter in detail.

Bill and Jo were a great team. Bill on his altruistic crusade to free innocent people from death row, and Jo with her incredible knowledge of DNA. I learned quite a few things about forensics while reading this book! Heaberlin certainly put in a lot of research putting it all together.

The characters from young Tessie's life were just as pivotal. Her best friend Lydia, almost as damaged as Tessie, is extremely influential in her life, as is the psychiatrist whom she spends the majority of the younger scenes divulging bit by bit of information to. The trial transcripts were another one of the highlights for me, reading about her experience and to see how a seemingly innocent man was sent to death row.

Although present day Tessa was the strongest character, my favourite character was senile old Effie from next door! She made me laugh in every appearance.

I love my thrillers with a dash of romance and loved the relationship between Tessa and Bill in this book. A lot of romantic tension mixed with a hefty dose of sexy was just what the doctor ordered! It worked really well - I loved them!

I really enjoyed the writers style in this book. Admittedly it took me a little while to get used to the intricate detail, however it soon began to easily flow and completely enriched the story. A lot of the time in novels I get a bit annoyed when it jumps back and forth in time - But not in this book. The perspective and time change with each chapter really worked and made it easily readable - kept me hooked till 4 in the morning!!!

The twist in this novel was slightly predictable, however did not deter from the gripping conclusion. I will absolutely be checking out Heaberlin's other novels, hopefully they are as riveting as this one!

Thoroughly enjoyed it! You will too if you enjoy a good thriller! 5 Stars!

Thanks to Penguin via NetGalley for the advanced copy for my honest review.

For more reviews visit my blog at
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
992 reviews2,770 followers
May 27, 2020

Finished this a couple of days ago and had to let my thoughts settle. Story of Tessa, the lone survivor of the somewhat notorious Black Eyed Susan serial killer. Tessa had a difficult childhood, losing both her mother and father and being raised by her grandparents. She befriends the one girl in the class that others seem to shy away from. Lydia is a complex character, as a child and adult. She also has a troubled childhood with a passive mother and an alcoholic father. But the girls seem to click and have many adventures, spending much time in and around Tessa’s grandparents “castle” home.

Everything changes when Tessa is taken by a killer who, assuming that she is dead, dumps her in a shallow grave along with other victims. Tessa is determined to live and is rescued by a farmer whose dog led him to the grave.

The book, beginning a quarter of the way in is told in past and present tense, between present day Tessa and her diary writings after the abduction and rescue. We are introduced to her in the present day, about 15 years later, when the killer whom she helped to put away is on Death Row. A young team of an attorney and forensic scientist are more and more certain that the killer is still out there and the person sitting on death row is innocent.

During the suspense and action the reader is as anxious as Tessa is to unlock the secrets of her memory. I was right there along with the other Susans in Tessa’s dreams and memory rooting for her to remember more.

The women in this book are very strong characters, Tessa, Lydia, Jo, the genius forensic scientist, even the next door neighbor, Effie, who has known Tessa since childhood but now is suffering from early signs of dementia. In spite of what she has been through Tessa has somehow managed to raise a daughter, Charlie, primarily on her own and make a livelihood creating works of art that other people hire her to create based on their ideas.

This was my kind of psychological thriller, strong characters, well described sense of place, plenty of suspense without guts and gore. We also learn a bit about the Texas criminal system and Death row inmates specifically.

I would recommend this book for those who like a well written, character driven thriller who is willing to wait to the very end for the big reveal. My only complaint is that it was wrapped up a little too quickly in the end. I wanted more details of the research that had been done by Lydia, more about the killer. The ending however is adequate.

I read this ARC from NetGalley in exchanage for an honest review
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
December 11, 2015
The twist.... ummm DIS TEW MUCH. This is one of those books whee I kept thinking, yeah I've read this before. And then there was the twist and I was like, wait, WHAT? WHAT? HUH? I certainly kept turning pages to get to the end and see how it all unravels but oh I hated the twist. The last two parts kind of didn't make sense BUT all this said, there is a lot of ambition to this novel and the various pieces and I admire that.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,331 reviews5 followers
August 26, 2015
“Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, is a crime drama/psychological suspense novel, and creepy at times, but without the need of graphic violence.

The novel is set in Fort Worth, Texas, and I was first drawn to the vivid cover of a field full of “Black-Eyed Susans”. I have to admit when I first started this book I was confused and initially had difficulty following the direction of the novel, as the chapters alternate between present day and flashback. Tessie, aged 17 in 1995 and Tessa, aged 32, tells what happened the day that she was discovered in a pit covered with Black-Eyed Susan flowers, lying on a heap of missing young women remains, known from there on as the "Susans" until their identities can be found out.

Tessa was left to die in an abandoned field covered in Black-Eyed Susans.

She is blind…and she doesn’t remember anything.

Tessa was the only surviving victim of a serial killer. Her testimony put him on death row.

Lydia, Tessa's best friend since childhood has been missing since she testified in court. Lydia comes back into story 17 years later.

Almost 20 years after surviving a serial killer attack, single mom Tessa Cartwright begins to doubt that the man on death row, soon to be executed, is the true culprit. She tries to retrieve long-buried memories.

But did Tessa’s testimony help put the wrong man behind bars? The Forensic science pros look at different types of DNA - which they didn't in years pass, as the technology wasn’t available then. I learned a lot in this book, about the process of Forensic Testing, which made for very interesting reading. I am well aware that substantial research went into the making of this novel, and it shows.

I found it a little difficult to get into at the beginning due to the choppy nature of the writing, but once I was used to it, the story flowed beautifully. This was a completely absorbing thriller, that I have no hesitation in highly recommending Black-Eyed Susans to all lovers of the genre.

Be prepared for a surprise ending!

Thank you to Random House/Ballantine books, Netgalley, and Julia Heaberlin for the ARC of this novel. Much appreciated.
Profile Image for Amanda Jane.
59 reviews93 followers
September 26, 2015
Black eyed Susans is a psychological thriller by Julia Heaberlin. I would wager this will not be the last we hear of this author.

This is not a book I will forget any time soon, I found it was original with many unique twists and turns. I didn't find it to be overly gruesome but it is super creepy that will keep you guessing to the very end.

I must mention the very beginning of the book, I was quite confused because each chapter alternates from 1995 to the present. Usually, this is a concept in writing that I quite enjoy, but I found myself having to go back to previous chapters to reread them so that I could continue on reading. After some time it seemed to find its rhythm and the rest of the story ran smoothly. My suggestion is to find somewhere quiet when you start this book because it is well worth persevering.

The story is about a horrendous crime that happened to 17 yr old Tessa who in 1995 was found barely alive in a pit with the dead body of a missing girl and some human bones covered in the flowers named Black Eyed Susans. A man is arrested and because of Tessa's testimony is facing death row. It seemed to be of no consequence to the prosecutor that Tessa had blackouts and couldn't remember anything about the actual crime even after therapy.

In the present, it is nearly 20 years since the crime. Tessa has a teenage daughter Charlie, for obvious reasons she is fiercely protective of. In regards to the crime, she still hasn't any answers to what happened that harrowing night. Tessa is reminded that she is the only surviving Black Eyed Susan when chilling occurrences begin to happen around her. Is the person doing this, an obsessed fan of the case or something more sinister? Is Tessa but more importantly Charlie safe? What if this person is the real killer?

Has the wrong man been put away? Many believe so, including Bill Hastings the lawyer working on the case and a brilliant forensic scientist Dr Jo Seger. Tessa agrees to work with them to try to find out the truth. The issue is they are racing against the clock, it is getting closer to the execution date.

I enjoyed the forensic science aspect especially in regards to how DNA is abstracted from old bone fragments. Don't worry about it being too scientific because it is written in layman terms so even the scientifically challenged such as myself can understand.

I really like the ending of the book obviously I can't tell you why, but I can tell you one aspect I thought was very well done is the way the author has informed the reader of where all the main characters are in their lives. I felt the book finished strong and definitely left a lasting impression.

4 out of 5 stars.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Random House/Ballantine, and the author Julia Heaberlin for an advanced copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews319 followers
May 30, 2020
A literary law of diminishing returns. The premise was intriguing and the short chapters moved the story along at a good pace, but at some point it got bogged down in DNA, the story became repetitive and the more I read, the less involved I became. Yet I could still see my way to four stars for the storyline and writing, that is until the end. Too convenient and convoluted with several threads left dangling.

Digging back in the dusty to read piles has been an interesting experience --this has been in the virtual stack since 2015--a mostly entertaining quest with the occasional realization that there was a reason some books never made it to the top of the list. I liked this well enough, but it could have made much more sense with a different unraveling of the plot.
Profile Image for Mary.
548 reviews11 followers
November 7, 2016
Dear reader,

If you are in the mood for an utterly compelling psychological thriller that will keep you in tight suspense,then you need to treat yourself to this book!

Centred around an event that happened some seventeen years ago that saw Tessie survive being abducted and dumped in a grave with other girls,nicknamed the Black Eyed Susans,we are immediately enticed into this most beguiling of storylines.

Told from two perspectives,in alternate chapters,we are privy to the teenage Tessie, the only girl who lived to tell the tale of the 'event' that would change her life forever,the determined efforts of doctors to help her remember said event,one that she has permanently blocked from her conscious mind,and the various counselling sessions with her doctors.

We see her state of mind,her determination to not remember all the particulars of that fateful thirty six hours and her rebellious spirit when confronted with doctors' orders.

We are also privy to the adult Tessa,now a mother to Charlie,whose willingness to work with the public defender,Bill,sees her questioning the guilt of Terrell Darcy,found guilty of the abduction of the Black Eyed Susans then,and presently sitting on Death Row,waiting,waiting,waiting.

What will Jo,a forensic scientist,called on to test the DNA of the bones buried with Tessie, discover?

Will she uncover new evidence that serves to raise enough doubts in the initial guilty verdict,that saw Terrell languish in a claustrophobic prison cell for the past seventeen years?

Is he in fact only guilty of being 'high' on drugs,and having the double misfortune of not only being in the wrong place at the wrong time,but having the White citizens of Texas judge his innocence,not portraying any sign of prejudice if his skin colour differed from theirs.

I loved may aspects of this book,the highly descriptive language,the various view points allowing us a window into the then and now,the deep suspense the reader was kept in for the majority of the book,the familiarity of the characters that saw us empathise with them on a very personal level,and the utter page turning anticipation of who exactly was to blame for the death of the Black Eyed Susans.

I was utterly enthralled by this book! So devoted was I to turning pages,to learning more of the teenage Tessie and today's Tessa,that the world could have ended and I would neither have known nor cared!

The various twists,sneakily embroidered into this tale,made this a fantastic,nail biting story. The ending,when it came,was a complete surprise to me,one that I thought very cleverly accomplished.

As an Austen fan I must admit to loving the nods the author made to Pride and Prejudice in the guise of Lydia, Francine, Darcy, Elizabeth,and not forgetting Pemberley!!

So treat yourself,dear reader,to this fantastic,intelligent,imaginative,creative and utterly compelling story. You won't regret it!
Profile Image for Krystin | TheF**kingTwist.
466 reviews1,732 followers
August 30, 2022
Book Blog | Bookstagram

"I am the Cartwright girl, dumped once upon a time with a strangled college student and a stack of human bones out past Highway 10, in an abandoned patch of field near the Jenkins property. I am the star of screaming tabloid headlines and campfire ghost stories. I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one."

First of all, just what do Americans think Canadian bacon is? Ham? Please, no.

This is Canadian bacon:

And it does not go on pizza, thank you.

Anyway, I can’t honestly say all of this worked for me, but I don’t have anything terribly negative to say about it either.

I know, it’s more fun when I’m evil. I agree.

The writing is engrossing. There is just something about Heaberlin’s prose that are beautifully crafted, even when speaking about forensics or court proceedings. I think this is what kept the sedate pace of the story-telling from knocking me out cold.

Teen Tessa, and her appointments with her therapist, were by far the most interesting chapters in the book. But Adult Tessa seemed to have forgotten what her personality was. She was bland and lacked any emotional tangibility, creating present-day chapters that were kind of boring.

The mystery was whatever, but the science behind it was interesting and seemingly well-researched. But honestly, I no do science good, so as long as the author sounds like they know what they’re talking about, I’ll buy it.

There is a twist ending, but it reads like the author dropped the suspense and realism and opted instead to take a more gimmicky path. She kept the truth at such a distance from the reader that it didn’t come across as a clever surprise, as much as it did an oddity to the rest of the novel.

Instead of “WHAT?!”, I got more of an “Um, what?”

You see the difference there? Yeah, you got it.

The first 85% of the novel feels genuine, human and - despite the lead’s lack of emotional availability - captivating as it explored the justice system, surviving trauma and forensic work. But the ending was a put-on as if trying to be something it wasn’t.

I wouldn’t call this creepy or a thriller, or really even psychological. It lacked menace, with the only threat of a maybe-killer being some flowers planted in a garden and someone stealing people’s gardening spades in the middle of the night. I mean, come on.

But it is a decent mystery, with beautiful prose and a mostly thoughtful plot, so I can’t hate on it too much, but I also didn’t love it.

⭐⭐⭐½ | 3.5 stars rounded down
Profile Image for Sue.
2,691 reviews170 followers
July 17, 2015

The only reason this is missing a full star rating from me is because at the beginning I was confused [doesn't take much] because of going back and forth to the past/present. It wasn't as straight forward a layout for a lame person like me to adjust to quickly [blame it on middle age]

Black-Eyed Susans

Doesn't that title intrigue you? It did me. I had to look at what the book was about, then I was "oh I I NEED this book

At the start of me reading it, a fellow book friend I know on Goodreads [Steff] asked me how I was getting along with it.

I said that I was struggling.

I can honestly and openly say, I didn't struggle for long. This book GREW on me.

We have a killer, a mad man. Tessie is the only survivor. She has gone through a lot.

We hear from her [flashbacks] when she was just 17 years old, then we come up to the present day where she is 32 years old and a Mother herself.

The remains of the other bodies where Tessie was found, were buried under Black-Eyed Susan flowers. Hence the title.

But who are the other dead bones belonging to?

The killer is about to be executed, and what does that mean for Tessie?

Its a very creepy read. I also found Tessie a bit creepy too at times as she seemed to be hiding something or had something seriously wrong with her. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

I don't think this is an easy read where you can just sit down and enjoy it, you need to use your brain to keep up. Once you get right into the center of the story it all makes sense.

I hadn't heard of Black-Eyes Susans, so I looked them up, you may like to see them, they are on the front cover as well as you can see.

 photo download_1.jpg

I have similar ones in my garden and some do grow tall and bush out. I can see why the remains and Tessie were hidden from view.

Its well worth your time in getting this book. I would certainly advise you to sit down somewhere quiet before starting it, you need time to get 'into' it, once done, you won't put it down.

I did a complete 180 degree turn around with this book and my thoughts from beginning to end.

** Thank you to Penguin UK - Michael Joseph via Net Galley for my advanced copy **
Profile Image for ♥Rachel♥.
1,852 reviews846 followers
January 3, 2016
4.5 Stars

Black-Eyed Susans
is a suspenseful mystery that will keep you hooked and on the edge of your seat! I devoured this story in 24 hours.

At the age of sixteen Tessa was a miracle as the only survivor in the Black-Eyed Susan murders. She didn’t remember much about her abduction or the ordeal, and for many years she welcomed the unknown. Back then Tessa was struggling with her own mental survival, not really pondering whether the authorities had the right guy, Terrell Darcy Goodwin, on trial. Now eighteen years later strange happenings make her think maybe they were wrong. When an anti-death penalty advocacy group contacts Tessa to help re-examine Terrell’s case, initially, even with the nagging doubts, she’s reluctant to participate. Getting involved opens Tessa and her teenage daughter up to public scrutiny and attention, and brings up memories she’d rather forget, but a man’s life is at stake.

Flashbacks from the past alternating with chapters in the present slowly reveal Tessa’s story. The time jumps were brilliant! The tension progressively ratcheted up with each morsel of truth dealt out. I had suspicions about the killer’s identity, but then I’d be led in another direction or a little twist would pop up and muddle my conclusions. I love it when an author can keep my guessing! My feelings over the final reveal were a mixture of astonishment and horror, especially in regards to one character in particular! The last chapters and journal entries were a chilling peek into twisted thoughts.

For any romance junkies who wonder (like me) there was a little bit of romance, but it’s a very minor part of the story. Still, I’m happy it was included.

Julia Heaberlin’s writing was wonderfully suspenseful, taut with tension, and just the right amount of twists and turns to keep me glued to the pages!

A copy was kindly provided by Ballantine Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is also posted at The Readers Den.
Profile Image for Lisa.
751 reviews
July 8, 2016
I am very conflicted on this book due to the way the author wrote about Tessa liked her in the present not the past the Characters were totally psychotic & really did my head in there was a lot of CSI type of information i could not pronounce which was annoying but all in all a okay read for me.

17 year old Tessa dubbed a Black eyed Susan by the press became famous for being the only victim to survive the vicious attack of a serial killer, her testimony helped put a dangerous killer behind bars or so she thought.

Decades later the Black eyed Susans are being planted outside Tessa's bedroom window seem to be sending a message that is in prison

Haunted by the events of memories of that night she was attacked & terrified for her own teenage daughters safety.

You think you have worked out what is going to happen the BAMM here comes a curve ball to put your mind into a spin the ending was not what i expected & gave me goosebumps at times during this book.

This was a dark thriller like fairytale which the author had worked perfectly i did think it dragged a little bit but that is one little negative a good read.

3 1/2 stars

Profile Image for Brenda.
4,098 reviews2,665 followers
August 21, 2015
Tessie and Lydia had been best friends since grade school – then at the tender age of sixteen going on seventeen, Tessie had suffered a terrible atrocity and was left for dead. She was rescued, and became the only surviving victim of a sadistic serial killer. She was forever known as a Black-Eyed Susan; a phrase which haunted her in her waking hours and in her nightmares.

Many years later and the killer was on death row; his execution date was looming and Tessa wasn’t positive the correct person was in jail for the murders. He was put there solely on the basis of her testimony – a terrified and damaged young woman who couldn’t remember any details of the attack. Tessa’s reasons were haunting her – the planting of black-eyes susans under the window of her bedroom; the past black-eyed susans that had been planted in other significant places – after the killer was in jail. And it wasn’t the season for those flowers to bloom…

Tessa knew she had to do everything in her power to remember that horrifying time – she needed to do it for the sake of her beloved teenage daughter, Charlie. Tessa and Charlie were close; but Tessa worried constantly that the killer was out there still – she was determined he wouldn’t get his hands on Charlie. With the help of Bill whose crusade was to free innocent victims on death’s row, and Jo, a brilliant forensic scientist whose speciality was DNA, Tessa was drawn slowly but surely back into those terrible details of her past. But would they be too late? Would the real killer be found; or was he really the killer after all?

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin is a twisted psychological thriller which is told in the alternative voices of a young and damaged Tessie in 1995 and a strong, mature Tessa trying to find the truth all those years later. I found it a little difficult to get into at the beginning due to the choppy nature of the writing, but once I was used to it, the story flowed beautifully. A completely absorbing thriller, I have no hesitation in highly recommending Black-Eyed Susans to all lovers of the genre.

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Erin Dunn.
Author 3 books88 followers
July 3, 2016

I won Black-Eyed Susans in a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you to Goodreads and Ballantine Books!

Black-Eyed Susans is the best thriller that I have read in awhile. It's such a completely captivating book. I love how the story expertly weaves from Tessa's past and back into the present. And kept me entertained in both the present and in the flashbacks! Also, there is some forensic science in the book and I liked that a lot. It seemed to me that the author really did her research on the forensics and in other areas as well. Which is always appreciated!

If you like tension in your thrillers then this one is for you! There is some major tension and buildup in this novel that leads to a great twist. I was turning the pages so fast, especially during the last quarter of the book. It was extremely intense! I had so many different theories going on in my head and I was dying to know what happened. I couldn't get to the end fast enough and I had to tell myself to slow down so I didn't miss anything.

I also really like Tessa's character. She's an unreliable narrator and I expected to dislike her, but there is just something about her that made me root for her. It's interesting because I went back and forth a lot on if I believed anything she said. I like her daughter a lot as well. The dynamic of the relationship between the two of them is really interesting. Now that I'm thinking more about it, I liked a lot of the characters in the book. Woo hoo!

Overall Black-Eyed Susans is a fantastic book and it has become a new favorite book for me! I don't have a single complaint about it. The writing is superb. I will definitely have to read the author's other books. Wow. That's all I have left to say, just WOW!!

I recommend Black-Eyed Susans to all thriller lovers. You won't be disappointed!
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books550 followers
August 28, 2017
The cover of this book initially drew me in - I know, never judge and all that - and when I read the description, I was truly intrigued. I am generally not crazy about amnesia stories, but there was this added dimension with questions of morality and the death penalty in Texas, which caught my attention, and made Black-Eyed Susans stand out.
The story centers around Tessa, a woman who was almost killed as a teenager, but whose memory of that event is hazy at best. The plot weaves smoothly from past to present and the clues are dropped piece by piece. In the end, I could kind of guess who the guilty party was before it was exposed, but I didn't mind that at all, since it can be so frustrating when the killer is someone so unexpected because the author has made any attempt at guessing impossible.
Though it took me a while to really get into the story, but 1/3 of the way through, I couldn't put it down. I'm definitely curious to explore more of Heaberlin's work.
I won Black-Eyed Susans in a First Reads Giveaway and have written what I think is a fair and fitting review. Thanks!

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,779 followers
October 21, 2015
I enjoyed this mystery/thriller. Took me a bit to get really into but was 'full steam ahead' once I did. The ending was easily one of the best twists I've read this year... I did not see it coming at all. High recommendation.
Profile Image for Jan.
424 reviews252 followers
December 31, 2017
I did not connect with this as well as others did. The mystery was good, it just took a really long time to get all the answers.

Typically I love short chapters, but with that and the bouncing back and forth from past to present, I found the flow to be a bit jarring. This was all meant to build up to the big reveal, but I think there is a lot that could have been cut out to help build more suspense or tension.

This is a rather lengthy read, and at times I did find my mind wandering. I kept hoping for something to happen to help kick up the pace or draw me in, but it really didn't happen for me until the last 100 pages.

The ending was solid though, so that helps make up for some of my issues. While I had an idea of who the bad guys were, I certainly didn't anticipate how it would all play out.

Would I recommend? Not sure...I think I will have to tell you to rely on the majority ratings for this and decide for yourself, as I seem to be in the minority.
Profile Image for Gary.
2,614 reviews369 followers
October 12, 2015
This is my first read of a Julia Heaberlin novel and I was drawn to reading it by the not only the description of the book but also the impressive reviews I had read by other readers.

I found the book a little disappointing, although it was good in patches and showed promise I still felt generally that it didn't hold my full attention. The book alternates between the past and present but it's failing for me was that it was too slow.

The novel is set in Fort Worth, Texas, and tells the story of teenage Tessie and Tessa, aged 32. Teenage Tessie was found in a pit covered with Black-Eyed Susan flowers, lying amongst the remains of missing young women. The women became known as 'Susan's' until their identities could be discovered.

I can understand why many people will disagree with my review because there were many positives in the book but my personal feeling was that I felt let down after all the positive hype.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Penguin UK for supplying me with a copy of this novel in exchange for a honest review.
July 9, 2016
Black-Eyed Susans opens with immediate intrigue but unfortunately the subtle telling did not engage my attention as much as I would have liked during the middle section. I feel the characters didn't give me quite enough of themselves and consequently I found that I did not greatly care for the outcome. Having said that the last 30% of this thriller turned the pace of the story up to a more engaging tempo. The court case is depicted from this point and the climax unfolds brilliantly, I truly wish the storytelling had included this earlier in the tale as it certainly would have engaged my attention with the story in a more convincing manner.

Lovers of Thrillers with subtle story telling and strong female leads will no doubt enjoy the Black-Eyed Susans and it's original plot line.
Profile Image for Kaora.
569 reviews281 followers
May 20, 2016
I am the Cartwright girl, dumped once upon a time with a strangled college student and a stack of human bones out past Highway 10, in an abandoned patch of field near the Jenkins property.
I am the star of screaming tabloid headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans. The lucky one.

This book jumps between multiple points of time, from just after Tessa was found, to the current day, two decades later where she is a mom with a daughter almost the age that she was when she went missing. This allows the story to gradually unfold, and leave you on several cliffhangers while it jumps to a different time.

It had me thoroughly hooked from the beginning, wanting to learn what happened to this woman who lives in constant fear. I had my suspicions but they all proved to be incorrect. I do love a good twist that I don't see coming.

Imagination, of course, can open any door— turn the key and let terror walk right in.

I have read this author before, but hadn't recognized her name, nor did I remember much of the story I read previously, which should tell you a lot about how much I enjoyed that book. However, I found the writing quite enjoyable in this one, and feel that my previous ambivalence was more that the subject matter of the book didn't interest me than anything else.

I did dock it a star because while the pacing was generally good, I felt that part of it was because Tessie didn't WANT to really know what happened, which annoyed me to no end and dragged the book out.

Cross posted at Kaora's Corner.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
557 reviews112 followers
June 30, 2018
me: *sees pretty book*
me: ok it is a thriller
me: i'll try something different
me: *reads creepy sounding blurb*
me: should be good
me: *is disappointed*

If the above tells you anything, it is that I thought this book was pretty, and that is basically the reason why I read it. I did think that the blurb sounded kind of creepy, and I actually did want to read a thriller to kind of mix up the genre of books I read a bit, but I chose this one in particular because of the cover. Look at the pretty flowers! And font! And then look how it coordinates with the author's other book! And should I have learnt my lesson yet? Yes... Have I? No... Yes, I was a little disappointed by this. But I am also not sure how reliable my rating is. I enjoy thrillers, but I don't read very many, and therefore I have nothing to really compare this with. I can compare it to the two Gillian Flynn I have read, which I preferred, but there isn't much else. So, forgive me if what I say sounds completely naïve (it probably is).


- So, let us begin with the things I actually did like. Because there were some things! I really liked the premise - the whole thing just sounded creepy. Our main character wakes up in a grave covered by black-eyed susans - and she is the only one alive in the group of girls buried with her. That sends a shiver down my spine. And I also really liked the main character, Tessa/Tessie. She isn't the most reliable narrator, and she isn't entirely good , but what I like about her is her love for her daughter. This kind of helps to tie her to the reader and gives her a redeeming feature. I thought this was well done and that Tessa was a well built character.

- Unfortunately, that was about it in the list of things I liked. The interesting premise was not lived up to. I like there to be tension in my thriller, danger, and as the character gets closer to the answer, their lives should be in jeopardy. This...was not the case here. Despite one or two shivers at some creepy things, I never really felt in danger or that there was any danger towards the characters. And this was made worse by the fact that the killer was dead all along. And I was kind of bored. Not very much mystery solving went on in a lot of the book. I was waiting and waiting for something to happen....and it didn't?

- I was not a huge fan of the end to the book. It just wasn't very satisfying and I GUESSED IT. I guessed the killer and I never guess anything. But I just felt that the end to such an interesting mystery was not very complex, or clever, or at all satisfying. There was no big twist. There was almost nothing to tie up, because the mystery was barely happening even earlier in the book. And a lot of things were explained away pretty weakly. And though there were some twisted things happening, it just wasn't very dark. I - am - disappointed.

So this was not the thriller for me. There needs to be a satisfying conclusion or twist and everything should fit together. That didn't happen here. Pretty covers do not promise good books, people. Maybe I should take my own advice...but we all know that won't happen. *rolls eyes* This is not a recommendation from me, but I guess if you don't want a really scary thriller this might be for you? Thriller newbies? Maybe? I could be totally wrong. I don't read many thrillers. I want to. But this wasn't a great start.
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