25 October 2007

Mystery author #37 Tess Gerritsen

Title: The Surgeon
Series detective: Jane Rizzoli – in this book with Thomas Moore
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 2001
Type of mystery: Serial murder, police procedural, thriller
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Boston, USA; modern timeless

SPOILER Warning: if you haven't read the books, there is a minor spoiler for book 1 in the synopsis for book 2. There are also minor spoilers in the reviews.

A serial murderer is on the loose in Boston and his handiwork is chillingly similar to that of another serial murderer who has been dead for 2 years, killed in self-defense by his last victim, Dr. Catherine Cordell. Police detectives Jane Rizzoli and Thomas Moore begin to suspect that there might have been two killers working together, but Cordell has no memory of another man. Before long, it becomes apparent that the killer has fixated on Cordell and has plans for her. The killer is relentless and when he captures Cordell, it is a race against time to find his lair before he kills her.

Since I actually read The Apprentice first, I can’t help comparing the two books. The Apprentice is the better of the two, but that is not to say that The Surgeon isn’t a good thriller. It is, and I might have found it better if I had not known who the killer was. Having read the second book first, the story was for me less about finding out who the killer was (he features in the second book too), than seeing the police discover his identity.
While it is Jane Rizzoli who is the series detective, it is not really that obvious here, as Moore is actually the better developed of the two detectives. This may originally have been intended as a stand-alone book, or perhaps the beginning of a series about Moore and not Rizzoli.

Rating: 3 stars.

Title: The Apprentice
Series detective: Jane Rizzoli
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 2002
Type of mystery: Serial murder, police procedural, thriller
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Boston, modern timeless

Story: It's been two years since Detective Jane Rizzoli captured a serial killer, nearly losing her own life in the process. Now someone is using some of his methods when killing young married women, but also some new methods, and Jane and her team suspect that they are either looking for a copycat who has blended his own methods with the other man’s, or the known killer has an apprentice. When he escapes and it becomes clear that he and the other murderer are working together and their dream target may be Jane. The Boston police have to race against time to stop the murderous tag-team from killing more people, and to find out the identity of the second killer.

Review: It's been a while since I have read a serial murder thriller this good – in fact I think the last one was an early Patricia Cornwell novel. The writing is well-paced and the suspense is nearly relentless and conforming to the classic formula each climax is bigger than the previous one. The episodes (or should I call them 'acts'?) are seamlessly connected and the characters believable, except perhaps the mysterious FBI man who remains wooden throughout, and the mystery killer who is always merely a dark, nameless shadow, a bogeyman to spice up the race to track down the known villain.

I do have a gripe with one storytelling technique used in both books. Of course I am no expert on the mentality of serial murderers, but I know enough to think that the serial killer seems realistic, even though his thoughts – which we get to see now and then throughout the story – are somewhat too literary and coherent (very few if any people think in coherent sentences all the time when not formulating something to say or write down), but I suppose this must be forgiven as it is a well-known literary device and stream-of-consciousness writing is not a device that goes well with the thriller form except in very small dozes..

Rating: 4 stars.

I am definitely adding Gerritsen to my “continue to read” list.

07 October 2007

Mystery author #36: D.R. Meredith

Series detectives: Paleoanthropologist and assistant librarian Megan Clark and her sidekick, history professor Ryan Stevens, aided and abetted by the Murder by the Yard mystery reading group.
Type of investigator: Amateurs
Setting & time: Amarillo, Texas, USA; 21st century

Title: Murder in Volume
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 2000
Type of mystery: Murder

Story: Megan drags Ryan, who happens to be her best friend even though he is old enough to be her father and secretly in love with her (just had to get that in), with her to a meeting to form a mystery reading group, even though Ryan never reads mysteries. A couple of meetings later, a young female member lashes viciously out against the others, belittles everyone and storms out, only to be found after the meeting outside the store with her throat slit. Megan can't miss the opportunity to use her education and examines the body before the police get there, and so gets blood on her clothes, making her a prime suspect in the eyes of the police, who (not unnaturally, considering the circumstances) refuse to allow her to participate in the investigation.
In order to clear her name, Megan decides to investigate the case herself, and Ryan tags along to protect her from harm. In the end, it is the co-operation of the whole reading group that nets the ruthless killer.

Review: As a mystery, this is not an effective story. The killer and motive are blatantly obvious to the reader right from the killer's first appearance. In other respects, I do like it. It was interesting to see the investigation unfolding for the participants, and the characters are well drawn, although Megan does stretch belief a bit. The storytelling device – but I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'll write about that in the author review.

Rating: A funny and entertaining whodunnit. 2+ stars.

Title: By Hook or by Book
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 2000
Type of mystery: Murder, theft

Story: Megan, Ryan and the reading group organise a string figure convention, with participants from all over the world. When a participant announces that he has found a long lost manuscript by a famous string figure specialist that he will sell to the highest bidder, the result is chaotic. The next morning he is found dead, and again the police are less than willing to let Megan participate, but she stubbornly starts an investigation of her own, aided by a reluctant Ryan and an enthusiastic reading group.

Review: As someone not that interested in string figures, I could not work up much enthusiasm for the premise of the story, but by looking at it like any other hobby and knowing that people can become obsessed with even the most trivial of subjects, I was able to enjoy it (for another, better example of such obsession, I heartily recommend Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun). The mystery was more mysterious this time around, but I still had the killer figured out around the time of the second murder.

Rating: Still entertaining, but the string figure instructions were really superfluous. 2+ stars.

Title: Murder Past Due
No. in series: 3
Year of publication: 2001
Type of mystery: Old murder

Story: The reading group celebrate their 6 month anniversary by offering a murder tour of Amarillo to the public, complete with re-enactments of real murders. Afterwards, the head of a very old and rich pioneer family approaches them and asks them to find out who murdered his grand-daughter-in-law 20 years ago, just after she returned from her honeymoon, and thereby caused her husband's suicide a year later. After examining the case, they all agree that the murderer has to have been a member of the family, and an interview with the police officer who was in charge of the investigation brings up some disturbing evidence. The police are un-cooperative as usual, but Megan isn't going to let that stop her, only this time she may have bitten off more than she could chew…

Review: This was the best of the three books I read in the series. The murder stories recounted in the book were interesting (all but the last are real) and although to me the way they helped Megan find the murderer was far-fetched, they did not feel too much like filler material.

Rating: The best of the three. 4 stars.

Author review:
All three books have the same storytelling device in common: chapters with alternating points of view. In every other chapter Ryan seems to be writing books in first person about the crimes, and in the other chapters a partially omniscient narrator is telling the story in the third person from Megan’s point of view. Each chapter picks up where the last one left off, so we only get to see part of the story from each viewpoint. Ryan’s chapters inject humour into the stories, and he is wryly self-deprecating in his admittance that he can’t stand the sight of blood, but he also admits that he will do anything to keep Megan safe.

The idea of a relationship between a young woman and the father of her childhood best friend could easily become icky if not handled right, but Meredith manages to avoid that by not letting anything more serious than some mild kissing happen, usually right after something dangerous has happened and the characters are upset and not quite in control of their emotions. Through the three books the relationship develops slowly as Megan starts to become aware that Ryan has feelings for her that are more than just friendly and begins to discover that her feelings towards him are equally ambiguous. This story thread is an interesting hook that the author is using to make the more romantically inclined readers want to continue reading the books in the hope the heroine and hero will finally realise they are meant to be lovers, but like similar hooks in television series, it could be risky to allow it ever to come to a final conclusion, as it would remove some of the tension that drives the stories.

The writing is straightforward and the stories flow well, apart from the interjections of string figure instructions at the beginning of the chapters in the second book that are probably easy for those who like string figures, but to me could just as well have been written in Chinese.

While one of the stories has a suicide ending (I’m not telling which one), it didn’t bother be much, as it was logical for that character to take his own life. What bothered me more was that one of the murder methods in that book was identical to the same in a Robert Barnard novel I reviewed last year. Even that wouldn’t have bothered me at all if the killer hadn’t then committed suicide in an identical fashion to the killer in the Barnard novel. This is probably a coincidence or an unconscious imitation on behalf of the author rather than anything sinister, but it did bother me. However, it not going to stop me from reading more books in this series (and the author’s other mysteries) should I come across them.

05 October 2007

Reading report for September 2007

I am beginning to go into a reading slump. The symptoms usually start with the feeling that I have nothing to read, even though I in fact do have a TBR stack of about 300 books in my bedroom and a TBR list of over 1000, at least a third of which I can get from the library. Then I start to read one book after the other and decide I‘m not interested in any of them, and the books I am already committed to read stop being interesting. This usually leads to a cull of my TBR stack, but so far I am resisting that temptation. This has happened almost every autumn since I was in my early twenties. Much as I love this season, the diminishing daylight does mean that I start getting the winter blues and a reading slump is usually the first warning sign. School has been somewhat effective in dispelling this seasonal gloom in the past, and when I have not been at school I have learned to keep busy and find new interests to keep the blues at bay. This winter I‘m taking a second bookbinding course (I‘m hoping to start learning about leather binding), and I have also started learning Spanish. This will hopefully keep my mood up, but may also affect the volume of my reading. We shall see.

I only finished 9 books this month, but I started reading at least six more and continued to read two that I started reading some months ago. Only one was non-fiction, Nancy Pearl‘s entertaining book of book lists, Book Lust, from which I got a number of titles to add to my TBR list. The rest were mysteries and thrillers. I may review some of them in the next couple of weeks.

Books I read in September:
Catherine Aird: Little Knell
Jennifer Crusie & Bob Mayer: Don't look down
Elizabeth Daly: Evidence of things seen
Tess Gerritsen: The Surgeon
Linda Howard: Dying to please
Ngaio Marsh: Vintage murder
Nancy Martin: Dead girls don't wear diamonds
Michael Pearce: Death of an Effendi
Nancy Pearl: Book Lust