The Night Season, By: Chelsea Cain

The Night Season (2011) written by Chelsea Cain. This is the fourth book in the series featuring damaged cop, Archie Sheridan and his nemesis, Gretchen Lowell or as the media has dubbed her, the Beauty Killer. To sum up my thoughts on the The Night Season: riveting beginning, boring middle with a lackluster ending. More details below for those interested.

The novels continue to be set in Portland, Oregon and Heartsick is the first in the series. Gretchen Lowell had left bodies all across state lines before she was caught. The percentage of known women serial killers is statistically low. That stat made the FBI’s best profiler miss catching her. Archie has been in her clutches twice and has survived but barely. He’s been on a cocktail of meds just to keep up appearances but three years later, Archie has kicked almost all of his bad habits and Gretchen is in prison. Even behind bars she still manages to keep Archie emotionally tethered to her. The two have this really strange, messy, twisted, complicated relationship that made for some good reading. In this entry in the series, Gretchen is in the background and a new killer has emerged. There’s never a shortage of predators in the city of Portland.

In “The Night Season,” the author decided to throw in some local flavor and show how past events have far reaching effects on the present. The novel opens with the 1948 flood of a North Portland town. On Memorial Day, the entire town of Vanport was washed away due to the breach in the levy. Conspiracy theorists say that town officials failed to respond appropriately because it was populated mostly by African-Americans. The story then flashes forward to the present day. Under heavy cloud cover and rain, the entire city of Portland is flooding and the Willamette River is threatening to overflow. These last spat of storms show no signs of abating.

Meanwhile, a human skeleton washes up in a dog park where the Vanport town used to be. A woman is reported missing by her husband. She’s found dead, seated on a carousel in the park by the “flood-swollen” Willamette River. At the morgue, which is underwater, the medical examiner concludes that the woman on the carousel was “murdered” and based on other autopsy photos of two other drowning victims, each had some type of puzzling mark on them. Detectives Archie Sheridan and his partner, Henry Sobol, along with journalist Susan Ward have to race against time (love saying that) to find a cunning killer who has the ability to get close enough to his victims without their ever suspecting the evil that stands before them.

Take note that the violence in this book is toned down a lot. I don’t know what brought that on but it didn’t damper my enjoyment of the story in the least. I actually embraced this change. The author also did some minor character developments. I think for the better. Just about everyone makes an appearance in here. The author says this is a good standalone and I’d have to agree with that assessment so if her earlier three novels were too gore ridden for you, take heart that this one is not. No doubt some will have missed this aspect of the novel but I can’t think of who though.

I don’t think “thrillers” in general are required to have all that much character development, not in depth anyway. That’s one of my biggest problems with this series. I haven’t rated any of her books above a B+. I like complexity. I like in depth characterizations. I like villains who aren’t just mindless killers. Guess you can say I’m spoiled by a certain author. Moving on. I think this author’s greatest strengths that she can write fast paced thrillers. She can keep you reading all night long. Stephen King is quoted in part as saying that Chelsea Cain has a “ferocious sense of humor.” I love her sense of humor as dark and macabre as it is.

When I finished reading The Night Season, the story kind of left me somewhat unsatisfied. I’ve been trying to think of a reason why for the last couple of days. On the positive side, I will say that the plot is one that I’ve never read before and that’s always a plus but anyway, here’s what I came up with: I didn’t feel compelled to keep turning the pages once I hit the middle. About 99% of the books out there falter in the middle. I thought to myself: I’m halfway through this book and there still isn’t a motive and there was really nothing there to support this lack. Second, I felt there was a lot of subterfuge in here. A lot of irrelevant details. Lastly and as usual, the ending was predictable. Endings are never this author’s strong suit anyway.

We get a front row seat inside the villains psyche. I can’t say that it added much to the over all story. To me the villain was one-dimensional, okay one point five and the crimes themselves almost bordered on the ridiculous but I think Ms. Cain pulled it off, just barely though. There was a brief moment where I really wanted to laugh out loud but I thought, hey, she’s got me half-convinced at least. That’s better than nothing. Fellow blogger, Wendy, says that this book has crossover appeal and you know what? I don’t do well with those types of books. Never have. I like Chelsea Cain when she pens dark and edgy stuff. I’m going to need her to continue to be dark and edgy if I’m going to read her. So, what to grade? My gut says maybe a B- or a C+ because the beginning had me riveted to my seat but as the story progressed my attention span kind of wandered. This is not my favorite in the series and I hate to admit this but I actually did miss Gretchen even though she makes a memorable yet brief appearance in here. C+ sums it up well for me. I’ll read the next one. This review was a kind of rush job so please try not to laugh too hard at anything that doesn’t sound too well thought out. Thanks.

FTC statement: The Night Season by Chelsea Cain was sent to me by the publisher for review. You can read more about my FTC disclaimer. Thank You.

9 thoughts on “The Night Season, By: Chelsea Cain”

  1. This is a very thoughtful review, which I enjoyed reading. However, it does not make me any more enthusiastic about reading a Chelsea Cain book, something I have not been remotely tempted to do, based on the subject matter of her previous titles (and hearing her talk about her books once). For me, a book needs a good (non-standard, non-predictable) plot, decent characterisation and atmosphere (place, mood etc).

    I do agree with your comment that many crime novels sag in the middle and most of them are disappointing at the end.

  2. Quite a thorough review, Keishon. I’m very anxious to receive this book and begin reading. It will be interesting to see if I agree with you on the occasional saggings in the storyline. Some of her books had that in the past (not Heartsick), but I have to wait before I can comment any further on this one.

  3. I liked this one better than you did – mainly because I didn’t find the middle all that saggy for me. Cain, for me, writes “urgency” very well – and her books are always so fast-paced that I tend to swallow them whole without really “savoring” the meal (for lack of a better analogy).

    I will say that yeah, the killer’s motives and the natures of the crimes came pretty close to straining for me. It’s pretty “out there.” But the author sold it just well enough to keep me from screaming, “Oh c’mon now!” But yeah, I can definitely see other readers not being as enthralled. Definitely. I tend to be pretty dang forgiving when a book grabs a hold of me and I tear thru the pages…..

  4. @Maxine – thank you :-)
    @Tee – anxious to see what you think as always
    @Wendy – we def. agree she can write “urgency” very well.

  5. We seem to be in almost perfect agreement with this book, Keishon. I found it rather dull, actually. This is what I wrote on the AAR boards:

    —Loved her previous three books, especially Heartsick, the first one. I enjoyed Archie in this one, as well as Susan, although, unlike with some other readers, she’s not one of my favorite Cain characters. To be perfectly honest (and don’t we try to be that here on the boards?), I found this story a bit dull. It was the characters that kept it going for me. I hope she ups it a notch or two in her next one. This one kept going and going and never quite grabbed me as the others did. Never thought I’d say I missed Gretchen… but I wonder. LOL. Cain has a subtle humor that she successfully interlaces in her stories and I like that. As much as Linda Howard has been on a downslide with me lately, she too has this neat ability with sarcastic humor. I like when an author can do that effortlessly and you can smile amidst a crisis. It’s not that easy to do, but you know when it’s done well and when it’s not.—

    So, most of what you said made this a C read for you is what made my read not so fabulous either. Plot and story were weak, for sure. Did not hold my attention (I dozed off numerous times during the reading of it). Hope she steps it up a bit for the next one (she said she would in the last two sentences in the Acknowledgments section).

  6. Hey Tee, thanks for sharing your opinion. Let’s hope this is just a one-off. I missed Gretchen in here too after saying we needed to see her LESS. We know she can write good thrillers so hopefully her next book will be back to what we usually expect.

  7. Wow, your review is amateurish and just not accurate. I have to assume that you are in fact an amateur; I have no interest in reading another review from you… let the experts write the reviews, and maybe consider going back to your day job.

    I won’t be visiting this post, nor will I waste my time ever reading anything you ever write again. Have a good day

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