Tess Gerritsen | The Silent Girl (Ballantine)

Some folks might be turned off by the supernatural element of the story, whether or not it turns out to be just a guy in a suit. Of course, readers looking for a realistic police procedural probably aren’t reading Tess Gerritsen anyway.

 

 

 
There was a time not too long ago when medical thrillers were huge. Publishers were looking for anything they could slap on the label “Medical Thriller.” This meant everything from traditional murder mysteries with a doctor as the detective to the most outré of science fiction. One of the biggest names in medical thrillers is Tess Gerritsen. Using Las Vegas headliners as reference, if Robin Cook is Elvis, then Gerritsen is Tom Jones. As the popularity of medical thrillers began to lose steam, Ms Gerritsen wisely shifted her focus from medical thrillers to forensic thrillers. Authors such as Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, as well as the various incarnations of the CSI: television series, have proven forensic thrillers are the big thing these days.
 
You might ask “What’s the difference between medical and forensic thrillers? Aren’t forensic thrillers just another type of medical thriller?” Well, yes and no. To be more accurate, yes but not really, so no. Actually, it’s a bit like trying to explain the difference between Country and Western music (or the difference between Alternative Country or Mainstream Country). If you’re a fan, you already know the difference. On the other hand, if you favorite music is Hip-hop or Heavy Metal, then no amount of explaining will suffice. It’s one of those things you just know or you don’t.
 
That brings us to Gerritsen’s latest book featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles, The Silent Girl, which is definitely not a medical thriller—in fact, there is surprisingly little forensic science in this book, either. By giving her series two protagonists, one a police detective and the other a forensic scientist, the author is able to change focus depending on plot needs. As a result, some books are more “Rizzoli books” (meaning the focus is on the police investigation) and some are “Isles books” (meaning more focus on the forensic elements of the story). This is definitely a “Rizzoli book.”
 
The story begins when a nearly decapitated body is discovered on the roof of a building. The complex story involves, among other things: a massacre in a Chinatown restaurant, missing girls, an ancient sword, a dying martial arts master, a legendary “Monkey King,” and two silver hairs discovered at the crime scene—hairs that are not human.
 
Obviously my first thought when I read about the hairs was The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Widely considered to be the prototype for the modern detective story, Edgar Allan Poe’s tale tells of a brutal murder committed by a razor-wielding ape. There are echoes of The Murders in the Rue Morgue throughout The Silent Girl and, on more than one occasion, I found myself asking, “Am I really supposed to believe these murders were committed by a monkey with a sword?”
 
Gerritsen also offers another, more supernatural explanation. The “Monkey King” is based on a real Chinese legend. A mysterious figure with a sword periodically shows up, killing people and vanishing in what seems to be a humanly impossible manner. Is the killer really a vengeful spirit, or is someone using the legend to cover up crimes? This is the same idea used in another classic mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s also the plot of every episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
 
Some folks might be turned off by the supernatural element of the story, whether or not it turns out to be just a guy in a suit. (“And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their dog!”) Of course, readers looking for a realistic police procedural probably aren’t reading Tess Gerritsen anyway.
 
Another trend in publishing that has been going on for a long time is the focus on thrillers over mysteries. Not all mysteries are thrillers and not all thrillers are mysteries. Many disappointed readers have picked up a book expecting a puzzle only to get a series of harrowing escapes and near-misses with no discernable plot. This is where Gerritsen excels: you will be surprised to find out who is behind the missing girls, although you will also be asking yourself why you didn’t see it coming, certainly the hallmark of a good mystery.
 
All in all, The Silent Girl is a strong thriller that also holds up as a mystery story. | Gordon Hopkins

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply