The Night Season, by Chelsea Cain
It’s raining in Portland, tonight. Big nasty storms have been deluging the city, flooding the Willamette, causing evacuations of basement offices — and mortuaries — and sweeping unlucky citizens into the churning, rushing murk to drown.
So it isn’t surprising when the police find drowned bodies. It is surprising when one of them is left sitting on a ride on the park, though.
It’s also surprising when it’s learned that some of the victims were dead before they hit the water…
It’s a good thing, then, that Portland is home to hero detective Archie Sheridan, the star of Chelsea Cain’s previous three thrillers (Heartsick, Sweetheart, Evil at Heart). In the past, this might not have been much help to the beleagured city, as Archie was a pale, shadowy wreck of a man, having barely survived an encounter with Gretchen Lowell – the infamous Beauty Killer.
But, after three novels’ worth of being haunted, taunted, fascinated, repulsed, and paradoxically attracted to the woman who abducted, tortured, killed, and then revived him, Archie has seemingly triumphed. With Ms. Lowell safely locked away, and no longer having any real hold over his heart and soul, Archie has been able to regenerate his monstrously damaged psyche. His body’s still something of a meaty mess, as one might expect, but he’s up on his feet and doing serious police work, now, instead of being a ghost of his former, fully functional self.
Having said that, he gets by with more than a little help with his friends. So when one of those friends is almost murdered by the killer, and left fighting for life, Archie finds he has to grow back up again just a little faster. Questions over the murderer’s motive and methods swirl together as the storm worsens, threatening to sweep away both the city and the evidence of crimes past and present. There are several races against time going on, here, and it will take all of Archie’s remaining faculties and friends to solve this mystery before the Night Season comes to a rushing, violent close.
I approached this book looking forward to another suspenseful tale from an up and coming master in that field, whose previous works have had me enthralled and wanting more, hopelessly entrapped in the Beauty Killer’s sinister spell. This time out I got a good thriller, but, sadly, I came to the realization that The Night Season was lacking an essential ingredient without Gretchen. A great deal of the suspense of Cain’s last three books came from the lovely serial killer and her murderous activities. A sultry, smirking Joker to Archie’s broken Batman, her very presence often lit the pages on fire, and her absence made me more afraid.
One of the chief ironies of the previous trilogy was that while Gretchen brought Archie back to life, she really killed him on that table — excising his soul along with his spleen. The Night Season — and Archie Sheridan’s character — seriously suffers for her absence. It almost seems like Cain is attempting to show that the tight-knit group of characters she’d spent three books honing can still function as a team, but it seems a mistake to have picked their story up again. Compared to her previous three works, the title of The Night Season isn’t the only thing missing a heart.
Those who loved Ms. Cain’s previous works will still want to read this latest chapter, but it makes a poor jumping off point for new readers. I’d highly recommend taking a gander at the classic Heartsick, first, to see an example of thriller writing at its best.
The Night Season is on our shelves now.