"BLACK-EYED SUSANS is a suspenseful page turner of the best kind!"
Reviewed by Lynn Cunningham
Posted July 27, 2015
In 1995, sixteen-year-old Tessa Cartwright was thrown into a grave, barely alive,
along with three dead girls. The killing field they were dumped in was filled with
the yellow wildflowers known as Black-Eyed Susans, which later becomes the
murder victims' moniker. Tessa's testimony about those tragic hours put a man
on death row.
Present day: Tessa is a single parent of a fourteen-year-old daughter. She's done
everything to put her horrific
past behind her. But the man convicted of the Black-Eyed Susan murders is due
to be executed soon.
He says he's innocent, and some people believe he's telling the truth. There are
people who believe him when
and they want Tessa's help. She would like to help but she
cannot remember a lot about that time, and what she
remembers is not completely reliable. Even worse, she has
also started to believe that he is innocent.
You see, someone has been leaving Black-Eyed Susans in
various places for her. If her captor is in prison, how can
he be responsible? Joining the team to help prove his
innocence leads her down a dark and frightening road for the
truth, which just may also be deadly.
BLACK-EYED SUSANS is a suspenseful page turner of the best
kind! Told in both the past and the present, the story is
mesmerizing. In many ways, it feels like reading someone's
diary as personal thoughts and feelings are revealed, but
with vital portions missing. The fragility of Tessa's
character also brings out her strengths as she fights her
way into the past. She is a good person; damaged, but good.
It is because of this that she certainly does not want the
wrong man executed, especially as she had a lot to do with
putting him in prison.
You become a part of Tessa's search for the truth while she also
fights for her sanity. BLACK-EYED SUSANS is written in such
a tantalizing way that you will be hard pressed to stop
reading until you also have the answers. There is a bit
of everything here--mystery, terror, suspense and romance. The ending is
shocking, jaw dropping, and one you never see coming. In short, BLACK-EYED
SUSANS is a book to be relished!
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
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.
As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a
field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only
fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since,
press has pursued her as the lone surviving â€śBlack-Eyed
Susan,â€ť the nickname given to the murder victims because
the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above
shared grave. Tessaâ€™s testimony about those tragic hours
a man on death row.
Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and
mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked
discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susansâ€”a
summertime bloomâ€”just outside her bedroom window.
at the implicationsâ€”that she sent the wrong man to prison
and the real killer remains at largeâ€”Tessa turns to the
lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution.
the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic
investigation of the still-unidentified bones is
too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The
team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve
memoriesâ€”and to share the drawings she produced as part
an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.
What they donâ€™t know is that Tessa and the scared,
girl she was have built a fortress of secrets. As the
ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity,
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
and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really
happened that night.
Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed
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 flowersâ€”as a
makes a chilling return to his garden.
Thirty- two hours of my life are missing.
My best friend, Lydia, tells me to imagine those hours
like old clothes in the back of a dark closet. Shut my
eyes. Open the
door. Move things around. Search.
The things I do remember, Iâ€™d rather not. Four freckles.
Eyes that arenâ€™t black but blue, wide open, two inches
Insects gnawing into a smooth, soft cheek. The grit of
the earth in my teeth. Those parts, I remember.
Itâ€™s my seventeenth birthday, and the candles on my cake
The little flames are waving at me to hurry up. Iâ€™m
thinking about the Black-E yed Susans, lying in freezing
metal drawers. How I
scrub and scrub but canâ€™t wash away their smell no matter
how many showers I take.
Make a wish.
I paste on a smile, and focus. Everyone in this room
loves me and wants me home.
Hopeful for the same old Tessie.
Never let me remember.
I close my eyes and blow.
My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief, Laid them beneath the
juniper- tree, Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am
â€” Tessie, age 10, reading aloud to her grandfather from
â€śThe Juniper Tree,â€ť 1988
For better or worse, I am walking the crooked path to my
The house sits topsy- turvy on the crest of a hill, like
a kid built it out of blocks and toilet paper rolls. The
in a comical direction, and turrets shoot off each side
like missiles about to take off. I used to sleep inside
one of them on
summer nights and pretend I was rocketing through space.
More than my little brother liked, I had climbed out one
of the windows onto the tiled roof and inched my scrappy
the widowâ€™s peak, grabbing sharp gargoyle ears and window
ledges for balance. At the top, I leaned against the
to survey the flat, endless Texas landscape and the stars
of my kingdom. I played my piccolo to the night birds.
The air rustled
my thin white cotton nightgown like I was a strange dove
alit on the top of a castle. It sounds like a fairy tale,
and it was.
My grandfather made his home in this crazy storybook
house in the country, but he built it for my brother,
Bobby, and me. It
wasnâ€™t a huge place, but I still have no idea how he
could afford it. He presented each of us with a turret, a
place where we
could hide out from the world whenever we wanted to sneak
away. It was his grand gesture, our personal Disney
World, to make up
for the fact that our mother had died.
Granny tried to get rid of the place shortly after
Granddaddy died, but the house didnâ€™t sell till years
later, when she was
lying in the ground between him and their daughter.
Nobody wanted it. It was weird, people said. Cursed.
Their ugly words made it
After I was found, the house had been pasted in all the
papers, all over TV. The local newspapers dubbed it
Grimâ€™s Castle. I
never knew if that was a typo. Texans spell things
different. For instance, we donâ€™t always add the ly.
People whispered that my grandfather must have had
something to do with my disappearance, with the murder of
all the Black-Eyed
Susans, because of his freaky house. â€śShades of Michael
Jackson and his Neverland Ranch,â€ť they muttered, even
after the state
sent a man to Death Row a little over a year later for
the crimes. These were the same people who had driven up
to the front door
every Christmas so their kids could gawk at the lit- up
gingerbread house and grab a candy cane from the basket
on the front
I press the bell. It no longer plays Ride of the
Valkyries. I donâ€™t know what to expect, so I am a little
surprised when the
older couple that open the door look perfectly suited to
living here. The plump worn- down hausfrau with the
kerchief on her
head, the sharp nose, and the dust rag in her hand
reminds me of the old woman in the shoe.
I stutter out my request. Thereâ€™s an immediate glint of
recognition by the woman, a slight softening of her
mouth. She locates
the small crescent- moon scar under my eye. The womanâ€™s
eyes say poor little girl, even though itâ€™s been eighteen
years, and I
now have a girl of my own.
â€śIâ€™m Bessie Wermuth,â€ť she says. â€śAnd this is my husband,
Herb. Come in, dear.â€ť Herb is scowling and leaning on his
Suspicious, I can tell. I donâ€™t blame him. I am a
stranger, even though he knows exactly who I am. Everyone
in a five-h undred-
mile radius does. 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
I am one of the four Black- Eyed Susans. The lucky one.
It will only take a few minutes, I promise. Mr. Wermuth
frowns, but Mrs. Wermuth says, Yes, of course. It is
clear that she makes
the decisions about all of the important things, like the
height of the grass and what to do with a redheaded,
waif on their doorstep, asking to be let in.
â€śWe wonâ€™t be able to go down there with you,â€ť the man
grumbles as he opens the door wider.
â€śNeither of us have been down there too much since we
moved in,â€ť Mrs. Wermuth says hurriedly. â€śMaybe once a
year. Itâ€™s damp. And
thereâ€™s a broken step. A busted hip could do either of us
in. Break one little thing at this age, and youâ€™re at the
in thirty days or less. If you donâ€™t want to die, donâ€™t
step foot inside a hospital after you turn sixty- five.â€ť
As she makes this grim pronouncement, I am frozen in the
great room, flooded with memories, searching for things
no longer there.
The totem pole that Bobby and I sawed and carved one
summer, completely unsupervised, with only one trip to
the emergency room.
Granddaddyâ€™s painting of a tiny mouse riding a
handkerchief sailboat in a wicked, boiling ocean.
Now a Thomas Kinkade hangs in its place. The room is home
to two flowered couches and a dizzying display of
on shelves and tucked in shadow boxes. German beer steins
and candlesticks, a Little Women doll set, crystal
frogs, at least fifty delicately etched English teacups,
a porcelain clown with a single black tear rolling down.
All of them, I
suspect, wondering how in the hell they ended up in the
The ticking is soothing. Ten antique clocks line one
wall, two with twitching cat tails keeping perfect time
with each other.
I can understand why Mrs. Wermuth chose our house. In her
way, she is one of us.
â€śHere we go,â€ť she says. I follow her obediently,
navigating a passageway that snakes off the living room.
I used to be able to
take its turns in the pitch dark on my roller skates. She
is flipping light switches as we go, and I suddenly feel
like I am
walking to the chamber of my death.
â€śTV says the execution is in a couple of months.â€ť I jump.
This is exactly where my mind is traveling. The scratchy
behind me is Mr. Wermuthâ€™s, full of cigarette smoke.
I pause, swallowing the knot in my throat as I wait for
him to ask whether I plan to sit front row and watch my
attacker suck in
his last breath. Instead, he pats my shoulder awkwardly.
â€śI wouldnâ€™t go. Donâ€™t give him another damn second.â€ť
I am wrong about Herb. It wouldnâ€™t be the first time Iâ€™ve
been wrong, or the last.
My head knocks into an abrupt curve in the wall because
Iâ€™m still turned toward Herb. â€śIâ€™m fine,â€ť I tell Mrs.
She lifts her hand but hesitates to touch my stinging
cheek, because it is just a little too close to the scar,
mark from a garnet ring dangling off a skeletal finger. A
gift from a Susan who didnâ€™t want me to forget her, ever.
I push Mrs.
Wermuthâ€™s hand away gently. â€śI forgot that turn was
coming up so soon.â€ť
â€śCrazy damn house,â€ť Herb says under his breath. â€śWhat in
the hell is wrong with living in St. Pete?â€ť He doesnâ€™t
seem to expect an
answer. The spot on my cheek begins to complain and my
scar echoes, a tiny ping, ping, ping.
The hallway has settled into a straight line. At the end,
an ordinary door. Mrs. Wermuth pulls out a skeleton key
from her apron
pocket and twists it in the lock easily. There used to be
twenty-five of those keys, all exactly the same, which
could open any
door in the place. An odd bit of practicality from my
A chilly draft rushes at us. I smell things both dying
and growing. I have my first moment of real doubt since I
left home an
hour ago. Mrs. Wermuth reaches up and yanks on a piece of
kite string dancing above her head. The bare, dusty light
â€śTake this.â€ť Mr. Wermuth prods me with the small Maglite
from his pocket. â€śI carry it around for reading. You know
where the main
light switch is?â€ť
â€śYes,â€ť I say automatically. â€śRight at the bottom.â€ť
â€śWatch the sixteenth step,â€ť Mrs. Wermuth warns. â€śSome
critter chewed a hole in it. I always count when I go
down. You take as
long as you like. I think Iâ€™ll make all of us a cup of
tea and you can tell a bit of the history of the house
after. Weâ€™d both
find that fascinating. Right, Herb?â€ť Herb grunts. Heâ€™s
thinking of driving a little white ball two hundred yards
deep blue sea.
I hesitate on the second step, and turn my head, unsure.
If anyone shuts this door, I wonâ€™t be found for a hundred
never had any doubt that death is still eager to catch up
with a certain sixteen- year- old girl.
Mrs. Wermuth offers a tiny, silly wave. â€śI hope you find
what you are looking for. It must be important.â€ť If this
is an opening,
I donâ€™t take it.
I descend noisily, like a kid, jumping over step sixteen.
At the bottom, I pull another dangling string, instantly
room with a harsh fluorescent glow.
It lights an empty tomb. This used to be a place where
things were born, where easels stood with half- finished
strange, frightening tools hung on pegboards, where a
curtained darkroom off to the side waited to bring photos
to life, and
dress mannequins held parties in the corners. Bobby and I
would swear we had seen them move more than once.
A stack of old chests held ridiculous antique dress- up
hats wrapped in tissue paper and my grandmotherâ€™s wedding
exactly 3,002 seed pearls and my grandfatherâ€™s World War
II uniform with the brown spot on the sleeve that Bobby
and I were sure
was blood. My grandfather was a welder, a farmer, a
historian, an artist, an Eagle Scout leader, a morgue
rifleman, a woodworker, a Republican, a yellow dog
Democrat. A poet. He could never make up his mind, which
is exactly what
people say about me.
He ordered us never to come down here alone, and he never
knew we did. But the temptation was too great. We were
fascinated with a forbidden, dusty black album that held
Granddaddyâ€™s crime scene photographs from his brief
career with the
county morgue. A wide- eyed housewife with her brains
splattered across her linoleum kitchen floor. A drowned,
naked judge pulled
to shore by his dog.
I stare at the mold greedily traveling up the brick walls
on every side. The black lichen flourishing in a large
across the filthy concrete floor.
No one has loved this place since Granddaddy died. I
quickly cross over to the far corner, sliding between the
wall and the coal
furnace that years ago had been abandoned as a bad idea.
Something travels lightly across my ankle. A scorpion, a
roach. I donâ€™t
flinch. Worse things have crawled across my face.
Behind the furnace, it is harder to see. I sweep the
light down the wall until I find the grimy brick with the
red heart, painted
there to fool my brother. He had spied on me one day when
I was exploring my options. I run my finger lightly
around the edges of
the heart three times.
Then I count ten bricks up from the red heart, and five
bricks over. Too high for little Bobby to reach. I jam
from my pocket into the crumbling mortar, and begin to
pry. The first brick topples out, and clatters onto the
floor. I work at
three other bricks, tugging them out one at a time.
I flash the light into the hole.
Stringy cobwebs, like spin art. At the back, a gray,
Waiting, for seventeen years, in the crypt I made for it.
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