The seductive force of the murderess who tortured and maimed him continues to complicate the workaday life of a hard-used policeman in Portland, Ore.
The weird relationship between police detective Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell, established in Cain’s 2007 Heartsick, has not been weakened by Gretchen’s imprisonment. Even as he carries out his forensic duties, and much to the detriment of his embattled marriage, Archie keeps his meetings with gorgeous but gruesome Gretchen. (Before she went to the Big House, Gretchen reached into Archie’s thorax and plucked out his spleen.) The visits with Gretchen ostensibly have to do with the need to pry from her the full list of her scores of victims, but if that weren’t on the to-do list, Archie would probably find some other excuse to drop in on the woman the papers call the Beauty Killer. He certainly doesn’t need the distraction. Bodies are continuing to turn up in the underbrush in a downtown city park, and a beloved senator has just plunged to his death from a Willamette River Bridge alongside a nosy journalist. The late reporter’s blue-haired newspaper colleague Susan Ward has taken copious notes on all the corpses. She was about to break the long-hidden story of the senator’s rape of a 14-year-old girl just before the accident, but now her editors have stepped on the report. Susan’s not about to give up pushing her way into Archie’s investigation. Then all hell breaks loose when Gretchen escapes. Archie knows his enchantress has engineered her jailbreak in order to get her hands back on the man she loves and loves to disembowel. Susan sticks with the story even as everything goes up in flames in one of those impressive Pacific Northwest forest fires.
Gretchen requires heavily engineered suspension of disbelief, but there are numerous thrills to be had and, underneath the Grand Guignol, there’s a perfectly normal detective story.