So, you've just moved to Portland, and you're looking for the one book that can really show you what our fair city is all about. You could play tourist and pick up a Fodor's , or maybe try WW' s own magazine guide, Finder . But if you don't mind throwing in your lot with that other, really big Oregon newspaper, Oregonian columnist Chelsea Cain has just penned a heartfelt salute to the Pacific Northwest's greatest export. I am referring, of course, to serial killers.
Cain's new mystery novel has a name as pulp-perfect as her own: Heartsick (St. Martin's, 336 pages, $23.95). It follows Portland detective Archie Sheridan as he tries to nab a murdering rapist, while making perverse prison visits to his previous catch, the gorgeous Gretchen Lowell, dubbed the Beauty Killer. Lowell was supposedly inspired by the real case of Washington State's Green River killer, but Cain appears to be one of those aspiring crime writers who make it impossible to find a rental copy of Silence of the Lambs . A sly quote acknowledges this debt without really excusing it, and I'm afraid the Beauty Killer is not "the most compelling, most original serial killer since Hannibal Lecter," as Chuck Palahniuk raves from the blurb page. She is, rather, the blandest of black-widow stereotypes, requiring a great movie star to give her life, which is perhaps why I picture Anthony Hopkins in a blond wig.
Why shell out $23.95 for a stale, gory whodunit? Because Heartsick is a stale, gory whodunit set in the Pearl District, North Portland and Sauvie Island, offering the simple personalized pleasure that a child might get from seeing his name in one of those made-to-order storybooks. Our hero is accompanied by a character named Susan Ward, who, in what could be a passing nod to the author's own profession, is a plucky reporter for the Oregon Herald . With her oh-so-alternative pink hairdo, Susan teaches the reader how to love the rain and envy the "chic twentysomethings slumped in the afternoon sun outside the coffeehouse on the corner, smoking cigarettes and thumbing through alt weeklies." This perfect PDX tour guide even spits out interesting facts: "You know, Portland has more microbreweries and brew pubs than any other city in the country." (That offhand "you know" is just rich.) The publisher promises two sequels to Heartsick , titled Sweetheart and Heartbreaker , and perhaps by book four, Chelsea Cain will have traded gore for grub, and we can enjoy Heartburn , in which the victims are force-fed organic salmon cakes and Voodoo Doughnuts.