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Literature / Archie Sheridan

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The Archie Sheridan series follows the eponymous detective as he hunts serial killers in the Portland area. Particularly, he is known for hunting beautiful serial killer Gretchen Lowell for years until she kidnapped him, tortured him, and then let him go—and turned herself in. That would be the end of things, except that Gretchen is also The Chessmaster, and she knows just how to manipulate her way out of tough situations...

The series consists of six books written by Chelsea Cain, a Portland novelist. Most of the books follow at least two characters' perspectives, usually Archie and his punk rock reporter friend Susan. Often they include frequent flashback chapters, mostly regarding Archie's experiences with Gretchen. The series is also sometimes referred to as the Gretchen Lowell series (though Gretchen actually doesn't appear in The Night Season).


The series includes the following novels:

  • Heartsick (2007)
  • Sweetheart (2008)
  • Evil at Heart (2009)
  • The Night Season (2011)
  • Kill You Twice (2012)
  • Let Me Go (2013)

The series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Achey Scars: Archie, thanks to Gretchen.
  • Adult Fear: Kidnapped high school girls being strangled to death and then raped, in Heartsick.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Susan with the After School Strangler in Heartsick, Archie with Gretchen in the flashbacks in Heartsick, Archie with Jeremy Reynolds in Evil at Heart.
  • Anachronic Order: Heartsick and Sweetheart had about a third of their content be flashback chapters interspersed with the present day chapters. The former to Archie's ten days of torture with Gretchen, and the latter to his affair with her before she revealed herself.
  • Badass in Distress: Archie spends an inordinate amount of time tied up or tortured by the bad guys.
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  • Badass Mustache: Henry, along with Bald of Awesome and being The Big Guy.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Sweetheart ends with Gretchen escaping from both prison and Archie's Taking You with Me gambit, courtesy of Susan. Something similar happens in Kill You Twice, which was Gretchen's elaborate Batman Gambit to escape the mental institution.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted with Gretchen. Beauty, in fact, equals serious badness.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Jeremy Reynolds in Evil at Heart. It ends up being subverted in the end, as it was Gretchen all along.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Gretchen with others in the first and third novels. With obsessive ephebophile teacher Paul Reston in Heartsick and broken self-mutilating prior victim Jeremy Reynolds in Evil at Heart.
  • Big Storm Episode: Not an episode, but one book in a series: The Night Season revolves around serial murders taking place while Portland is both storming and flooding. Bonus points because the murder weapon is a cephalopod (though the flood is fresh water).
  • Black Comedy: Everyone has their quippy moments, even in dire circumstances, though Archie is the main offender. This tended to be more prominent in the first three novels.
  • Body of the Week
  • Break Them by Talking: Something Gretchen is extremely adept at.
  • The Chessmaster: Gretchen, exemplified by Sweetheart: Everyone on the BK Task Force thinks she's manipulating Archie, and she is... But first she needed to escape, and to do that she needed to manipulate Henry into getting her transferred. In the end she manages to manipulate Susan into freeing her from Archie's own gambit, allowing Gretchen to escape unscathed, exactly as she wanted.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Susan, constantly. Eventually she stops telling herself that she only smokes in social situations. Although she'd probably stop smoking if she stopped chasing dead bodies...
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Gretchen, Gretchen, Gretchen. In fact, if there's no sign of torture, specifically bladework, it's a safe bet Gretchen's not involved.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: Gretchen in Heartsick.
  • The Corrupter: Gretchen can convince lonely male narcissists to kill for her, and she relishes it.
  • Creepy Cleanliness: The After School Strangler submerges his victims bodies in bleach before dumping them. [[spoilers: Turns out Susan bleached her hair with Clorox in her sophomore year as a way of acting out after her father's death]]. This then become the clue that Reston is not to be trusted, when Susan gets in his car and notices just how clean it is—and the smell.
  • Cruel Mercy: After torturing Archie for days to the point that he is happy to finally die, Gretchen administers poison to stop his heart. Then, just to see what would happen to his life she resuscitates him and turns herself in after calling 911 to get him proper medical treatment.
  • Dating Catwoman: There is absolutely a romantic/sexual relationship between Archie and Gretchen. He may struggle with the fact that she's a psychopathic serial murderer, but they do still care for each other.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Archie. If he's not in deadpan snark mode, there's trouble.
  • Defective Detective: Let us count the ways: 1) Tortured physically and psychologically for ten days, is killed out of mercy only to be revived by his killer; 2) returns home, alive, now with an addiction to painkillers; 3) within six months he is separated from his wife and children because he can't even bear to touch them; 4) goes back to work catching serial killers, spending his free time consulting with his torturer to discover her other victims; 5) and it turns out they still have a sexual relationship. Guy's a little fucked up.
  • Deuteragonist: Susan, as the secondary viewpoint character.
  • Dysfunction Junction: While not everyone has issues, the vast majority have something.
  • Expansion Pack Past: Henry's been married five times and lived all over the US.
  • Eye Scream: One of the defining characteristics of the murders in Evil at Heart. Happens to Jeremy at the climax of the book, even.
  • Famed in Story: Everywhere he goes, Archie will be recognized, yet amusingly he is always surprised by it. Finally he recognizes his fame when he attends a Masquerade Ball in Let Me Go and is grateful for the anonymity a mask provides.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Subverting these with Gretchen is one of the points of the series.
  • Film Noir: Given the number of serial killers in Portland in a single year, the amount of rain and/or cloud cover it gets, and our protagonists' issues, this series gets pretty noir.
  • Functional Addict: Archie is addicted to Vicodin, so much so that in Sweetheart, his liver begins to shut down. After trying to kill himself via overdose, he is admitted to rehab and forced to quit cold turkey. The shadow of addiction looms over the remaining books.
  • Gender Flip: Of the genius-serial killer mold that Hannibal Lecter arguably began. Gretchen is not as perfect or learned as Lecter, but she is insanely devious, incredibly sadistic, and The Chessmaster. Her establishing book also features Consulting a Convicted Killer, which most people associate with The Silence of the Lambs.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: It is Portland, after all. Comes to a head in The Night Season.
  • Heart Symbol: A gruesome variation: Gretchen signs all of her work by carving a heart into the victim's torso; it's literally her Signature Move.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Kill You Twice and Let Me Go have noticeably more sexual content than the first four books. Originally, sex scenes would cut away as a chapter ending or skip over being descriptive; not so in these two. It doesn't reach Purple Prose levels, but it's somewhat distracting in a series that was previously more about violence than sex.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Henry, with Claire.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Susan, even after being fired from the Herald she still freelances.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair: Susan wears her hair in a short bob, that goes from pink (Heartsick) to aqua (Sweetheart) to purple (Evil at Heart) to raspberry (The Night Season) to neon orange (Kill You Twice) and finally to black with a white stripe (Let Me Go).
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Archie used to be able to handle the death he sees daily and still be level. After his time with Gretchen, though, things are noticeably more sour.
  • Literally Loving Thy Neighbor: Rachel, Archie's new neighbor, in Kill You Twice. Downplayed since he actually appreciates the lack of emotional needs their relationship has.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gretchen is always playing someone. Often it's Archie, except when it's Henry. One of the most depressing things about Kill You Twice is that Gretchen is so pumped full of medication that she's stopped being able to manipulate people.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: Archie, so much.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Susan. Chelsea Cain used to write newspaper columns before moving on to novels.
  • Never One Murder
  • Psychological Thriller
  • Psycho Supporter: Gretchen has a masterful ability to manipulate self-absorbed men with a low sanity threshold into becoming her serial killer "apprentices". In Evil at Heart, it appears that this is what happened with Jeremy Reynolds. Or not.
  • Recovered Addict: Hinted at with Evil at Heart, confirmed in The Night Season.
  • Room Full of Crazy: One of the first clues in Evil at Heart.
  • Serial Killer: Gretchen is a Sexual Sadist type.
  • Shamu Fu: The murder weapon in The Night Season is a blue ringed octopus.
  • Shout-Out: To The Silence of the Lambs in Heartsick.
    Susan: The After School Strangler. Any ideas of what kind of person we're looking for?
    Gretchen: [laughs] Want me to get inside his head for you? Sorry, Clarice. Can't help you.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The After School Strangler, aka Reston, for Susan. Turns out all those girls were supposed to evoke her high-school likeness.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Archie, particularly in the first three novels.
  • Taking You with Me: Archie's final plan in Sweetheart is to kill himself with pills and leave Gretchen for either the police or the wildfire, whichever comes first. It doesn't exactly go as planned.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Archie's signature. Appropriately, it's the good counterpart of Gretchen's second signature move, Break Them by Talking. There's a reason they're a Mind Game Ship.
  • Theme Naming: For a while it seemed like each book would contain the word "heart" in the title, until The Night Season subverted the trend. It seems to be permanently stalled now that Kill You Twice and Let Me Go are out.
  • The Vamp: Gretchen. Her beauty paired with her evil is why she is infamous. She is also known to take on unstable men and manipulate them into killing in exchange for sex.
  • The Watson: Susan.
  • Workaholic: Archie. Ends up in Married to the Job territory, and destroys his relationship with his wife after he is captured and tortured by Gretchen. Well, aside from the Stockholm Syndrome and cheating on his wife with a serial killer.

Alternative Title(s): Heartsick


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