February 06, 2013

Never Gonna Give You Up... (Review: Last to Die; Tess Gerritsen)

Last to Die (Rizzoli & Isles, #10)Last to Die
Tess Gerritsen
Random House 2012

Three families, three homes, three massacres, three survivors – no connection.  Or so it seems until the three survivors have to survive again. All three are children and all three find themselves alone in the world and deposited at strange boarding school/survival camp Evensong. Maura Isles knows all about Evensong and finds herself there as the final child arrives, escorted by Jane Rizzoli.  The two women quickly realise that Evensong may not be all it seems linked, as it is, to the ever mysterious Mephisto Club and that the seemingly unrelated deaths surrounding Claire, Will and Teddy may not be entirely unrelated. With strange stick figures and dead chickens starting to appear around the grounds, Jane and Maura find themselves increasingly intertwined in a place that may very well be harbouring the killer that they seek.

As always, Gerritsen writes her female leads with subtlety and warmth.  The rather frosty Isles is still pretty much as miserable as ever but has found her light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of Julian, her quasi-adoptive son, who seems to have given her some perspective on a life that has, after all, revolved around death.  She’s still remote and yes, still quite cold, but Gerritsen is skilled at cracking open her hard shell and letting readers peak inside.  Rizzoli is as frenetic and stubborn as ever, but motherhood has tempered her more hot-headed impulses, if not her interactions with her increasingly infuriating family.  She’s an extremely moral character, with set ideas on right and wrong.  Of the two women, she is certainly easier to like but is no less flawed and, as one has come to expect, the time they spend together in the book is interesting to read.  Their friendship has been on the rocks for a while but Last to Die resolves this somewhat and shows, more than ever before, how much their strange friendship means to them as individuals despite them often being woefully ill-equipped to express it. Other characters are well drawn.  The teaching staff at Evensong are caring yet unsettling, while Anthony Sampson continues to shroud himself in mystery in a somewhat irritating manner.  Detectives Frost and Crowe are respectively solid and horrid while Julian emerges as an interesting young man.  The children at the heart of the story are particularly well expressed, damaged, sympathetic but also deeply unsettling, carrying as they do, the weight of much violence on their small shoulders.

Last to Die gets off to a great start, tracking the attacks on Claire, Will and Teddy, the latter of which draws Boston PD and their medical examiner into the story. While Maura Isles is ostensibly about to take some time off to spend with Julian at Evensong, Jane Rizzoli ultimately ends up taking young victim Teddy to the school for his own protection while trying to investigate a string of killings that she has a gut feeling are tied together.  The plotting is simple yet effective. Gerritsen takes readers from the woods of Maine to the science centres of NASA without the story every feeling particularly contrived and the mystery behind the three families is nothing less than compelling throughout. And then there is the Mephisto Club, around who so many things in the Rizzoli/Isles universe have started to swirl. Gerritsen has been tiptoeing around the Club, leaving unresolved trails of breadcrumbs ever since they first appeared in their titular book.  They were an odd fit then, with their talks of inherent evil, and they’re an odd fit now, adding an almost supernatural bent to what was previously pure crime writing.  However, on close reading it is clear that Gerritsen is trying to look at philosophies rather than demons. I’m not sure that she’s entirely successful but it does make for interesting reading. The way in which Rizzoli and Isles have responded to the Mephistinos (for that is what they should be called) in the past has been interesting (not to mention refreshingly dismissive) but Last to Die seems to hint at a sea change, particularly where Maura is concerned.  Certainly, it will be interesting to see where Tess Gerritsen heads with this thread.

Regardless of the Mephisto storyline, what Gerritsen is sure to do in the future is produce yet more endlessly readable crime fiction.  For those who have only seen the rather dreadful, oddly comedic and horribly miscast TV series based around Rizzoli and Isles – don’t let it put you off.  The series that Gerritsen has written around these characters is an altogether darker place that the frivolity of the show, with intricate characterisation and seriously sinister stories abounding in every instalment.  A must for lovers of a good thriller, Last to Die doesn’t disappoint and will absolutely keep you guessing until the last page.



This review was brought to you by Splendibird and you can expect more like it as here at Mountains of Instead we are embracing our secret love of thrillers. Last to Die is available now.

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