Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tess Gerritsen Scores Again With Sequel To The Surgeon

Tess Gerritsen brought back Boston Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli for a second outing in The Apprentice, a follow-up to her bestselling The Surgeon. She also brought back serial killer Warren Hoyt and paired him with an equally sick killer the homicide squad labeled the Dominator due to his choice of victims and style of murder.

There’s an obvious homage about the book to Thomas Harris’s own Silence of the Lambs and the character of Hannibal Lecter. Gerritsen might have started with similar real estate, but she built an original experience out of it. Besides that, serial killers had been killing for years before Harris made reading about them all the rage.

I love the character of Jane Rizzoli. She’s a good cop, intelligent and insightful, who’s almost buried in a male-dominated hierarchy. Her need to impress her colleagues and earn the social distinction of “equal” is compelling. I’ve known women like Rizzoli who struggled to survive in those kinds of worlds, for exactly the same reasons.

I also love the way Rizzoli fits into her family. Everyone there seems to dismiss her job as a homicide detective, even after she was nearly killed bringing in Hoyt. Despite Rizzoli’s hard-as-nails exterior, Gerritsen shows how vulnerable her lead character is on the job, with her family, and when she’s by herself. Rizzoli is a fully realized personality, equipped with strengths, weaknesses, and the seeds for her own potential self-destruction.

Gerritsen’s writing has won me over, though. It’s tight and polished, and moves quickly. These early novels focus on the trials and tribulations that Rizzoli goes through, and – beginning with The Sinner -- picks up on Dr. Maura Isles’s complicated life as well.

But The Apprentice starts off like a bullet with the murder scene where a man is found dead, tied up and obviously made to watch something. Further investigation reveals the man was married but his wife is now missing. Crime scene analysis reveals that a woman was there, and neighbors’ reports confirm that the couple was home together. So Rizzoli wants to know where the wife is.

Immediately Rizzoli believes they’re looking for a serial killer. Not only that, the violence reminds her of Warren Hoyt and her brush with death in The Surgeon. Even though she won’t admit it even to herself, Rizzoli hasn’t gotten over that. Nightmares plague her and her apartment has taken on a veneer of fear that just won’t go away.

Further complicating matter, FBI Agent Gabriel Dean arrives on the scene early as well. No one knows what’s drawn him there, and he’s not going to give any information. He’s quiet and taciturn, completely focused on the investigation. He also rapidly becomes Rizzoli’s nemesis, constantly questioning her, confronting her, and going behind her back to her superiors.

The way that Gerritsen plays these two off against each other is good, and it shows her roots in writing romantic fiction. But she brought her best game with her from those books when she took the plunge into the suspense market.

When the wife’s missing body is found, the puzzle turns even more dark and twisted. The area where the corpse was found turns out to be a familiar dump site for the serial killer. They find other bodies there, and gradually backtrack them to other abductions and murders.

Dr. Maura Isles, the other half of Gerritsen’s bestselling crime-fighting duo, gets introduced in this book. She’s a medical examiner and works the crime scenes, getting to know Rizzoli through the case. Isles is also learning forensic anthropology, and several scenes in the book are heavy with forensic information, how those people work and what they look for. Given Gerritsen’s familiarity with the medical field (the author was once a practicing internist), the scenes roll on exceedingly well without stopping the action or causing an information overload.

Gabriel Dean remains dogged in his pursuit of the truth, and when he finally reveals what he’s doing there to Rizzoli, the whole investigation takes an intriguing 180-degree spin that will catch most readers off balance but has clearly been in the works since page one.

Warren Hoyt’s escape from prison and eventual partnership with the Dominator seems a little forced and even anti-climatic in the end, but it satisfies readers of the first novel who weren’t happy about Hoyt’s situation.

The climax of the book, though, came almost too sudden. I was locked down to read through to the end, then – when it came – it was over too soon. It all makes sense and Gerritsen set it up to play out that way, but after all the build-up I just wanted a little more. But more would also have taken the story over the top too, I’m afraid. Rizzoli isn’t a superwoman. She’s just smart and crafty, and that ending fits perfectly.

If you enjoy a good thriller that will keep you tense and turning pages long into the night while keeping up with a sharp, competent investigator who’s definitely motivated, Tess Gerritsen is an author you should start picking up. But start at the beginning if you haven’t read her. The books stand alone, but they’re organic as well, bringing two strong women together and sharing their lives with the audience.


Sheila said...

Wow, great review. I love reading those kinds of books. I might have to pick up both!

Katie said...

These sounds really great. The review is great too! :)