Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Evil at Heart"

Chelsea Cain lived the first few years of her life on an Iowa commune, then grew up in Bellingham, Washington, where the infamous Green River Killer was “the boogeyman” of her youth. Her first two novels featuring Det. Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell, Heartsick and Sweetheart, were both New York Times bestsellers. Also the author of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, and several nonfiction titles, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Evil at Heart, her third thriller featuring Archie and Gretchen, and reported the following:
Henry wrote something down. “Do you think you’d recognize the caller’s voice?” he asked.

Susan tried to replay the caller’s voice in her head, but it eluded her. “Maybe,” she said. She gazed down at her bloodstained jeans. Thank God for black denim. It could hide anything.

“The guy I found,” she said—she could still see his face, those egg-white eyes—“how’d he die?”

“I think we can rule out natural causes,” Henry said.

Susan had knelt two feet away from the body, and gotten blood on her pants. The sheet was soaked with it. The guy had bled a lot. Like he’d been cut up. No, she thought, operated on. The hearts on the wall, Gretchen’s signature, the fan site. Suddenly she knew. “His spleen’s gone, isn’t it?” Susan asked. Henry’s reaction was almost undetectable. But he flinched.

Someone had ripped out his spleen. Just like Gretchen had done to her victims, like she’d done to Archie. She had sliced Archie open without anesthesia and cut it out of him. Then sent it to Henry in the mail. Susan’s throat tightened and she had to swallow a few times before she could speak. “Should I be in protection?” she asked.

Henry took off the sunglasses and looked at her. His shaved head was still shiny with rain. “Leave town,” he said.

It was a good idea. Go to Mexico for a few months. Get some writing done. Maybe she could have done it, a few months ago, before she’d met Archie. “I can’t,” she said. “I’m a journalist. I can’t.”

Susan’s pulse was racing. The fingerprint tech must have felt it because he looked up at her for the first time since he’d arrived. “Koalas,” he said. “You fingerprint a koala, it’s almost impossible to tell the print from a human one.”

“Seriously?” Susan said.

It worked! I think this scene does speak to the book. A little gore, a little humor, my insistent descriptions of Henry’s shaved head, and some very useful trivia about koalas. I like also how this scene gives a few hints as to the plot. They’ve found a body. The spleen’s missing. Someone named Gretchen is at large, and hey, she likes to take out people’s spleens. She’s taken out Archie’s spleen. Susan wonders if she’s in danger. It’s very economical. Plus we get a hint of Susan’s character arc. She resists her urge to flee because she feels journalistic obligations. Curiously, after I did this, I checked out page 99, and it also worked, but in a very different way. Page 99 is a scene between the detective, Archie Sheridan and the killer, Gretchen Lowell. It is very dark and flirty and twisted. Which is the other side of the narrative. So really both would have worked, thought I think this perspective (Susan’s) feels more like my voice.
Read an excerpt from Evil at Heart and watch the Evil at Heart video.

Learn more about the author and her work at Chelsea Cain's website and blog, and at

The Page 99 Test: Sweetheart.

--Marshal Zeringue