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That Rizzoli 'edge' is missing
on 29 September 2008
Known as "The Keepsake" in the U.S. this UK version is subtitled "A Maura Isles Thriller" on some covers. Slightly misleading, that, because Boston medical examiner Dr Isles really plays a rather by-the-numbers part in this story, and in any case this series hasn't always featured her at all. She first appeared in THE SINNER, which was the third of the seven to date, and in doing so added a bit of softer-hearted romance to what had been until then a really excellent hard-edged crime thriller series. The character of Detective Rizzoli, meanwhile, has lost some of its depth and meaning over the years and anyone buying into Tess Gerritsen for the first time might wonder what the fuss is all about. A series such as this is built around characterisation above all else, and it is so frustrating to see a very talented writer fail to develop what she has demonstrated the ability to do. In the series debut THE SURGEON (in 2001) and even more so in the sequel THE APPRENTICE (2002), Rizzoli's character was superbly created and developed, but when Maura Isles came on the scene - a character said by Gerritsen to be similar to her own personality in real life - not only has Rizzoli had to take something of a back seat but of late she isn't even called Rizzoli at all; instead the author has decided to use her first name of Jane in the narrative and this in my opinion has further diluted what was once the strongest feature of the brand.
As for this particular story, it eventually reminds me a little of the previous Rizzoli/Isles outing THE MEPHISTO CLUB, in that the writer thought of an exotic interest around which to wrap a murder mystery, and come the conclusion the reader wonders why the esoteric backgrounds needed to be there at all. In this case the background is the Egyptian art of body preservation or mummification. There is detailed information within the story about what it is, where it originates and how it can be done, but ultimately it really hardly matters in the big scheme of things because its meaning and significance withers away to almost nothing before the rather familiar bam-bam you're dead finale. A mother and daughter have been on the run for twelve years after a life-changing (OK, life-ending) event when the daughter was but a teenager. Living separate lives under new identities, they are hiding from those who seek retribution for the acts of a dozen years earlier. Not surprisingly, the story is basically about what happens when their cover is blown and the baddies track them down. The first half of the tale, which is steeped in archaeology and vivid descriptions of mummified bodies, is very good reading and at the time I thought Gerritsen was back on top form. What I then wanted, based on past experience, was some character development of either Rizzoli or Isles, but it just never happened. Rizzoli is now a married mother, and once again it's a shame that her husband - FBI Agent Gabriel Dean - barely features at all because he was great in THE APPRENTICE but here we are four novels later and he is as good as forgotten about. There's no point to his existence any more. As for Maura Isles, well this was really the poorest aspect of the tale, because the object of her affections - dog-collared Daniel - doesn't feature at all, and this is a man who we have been struggling to get to know for four novels now of the five that Maura Isles has featured in! Basically, he's just 'not there for her', but this has been the way from the outset it seems, and it's getting rather pointless. Maura's love-life is touched upon here and there in a thread that suggests that it will have some meaning and relevance later on...but nothing happens at all, and Maura is pretty much forgotten about for all of the concluding chapters.
The writing style is of a high standard throughout, however, as I guess we should expect from an author of such fame, fortune and experience. Yes, there's a decent story here and it's well told, but what let it down for me was the surprising lack of characterisation. Most of the surprise twists were very predictable and broadly speaking this was just another 'safe' publication by Tess Gerritsen, a story without any risks or shocks apart from the imagery on and around the autopsy table, where she is always at her most confident and imaginative. I enjoyed the beginning and the middle but it rather fizzled out into a neatly-tied ending and I felt a little short-changed as a result. Tess Gerritsen can do better than this, and having read all seven novels in this series I would suggest that next time around Maura Isles is demoted to just bit-part character (as she is already, but unintentionally) and 'Jane' returns as 'Rizzoli' and in the tough-cop guise she came on to the scene as six years ago. Perhaps Gabriel Dean could return; for too long there has been too much emphasis on female characters, and this series was at its best when there was a balanced gender split among the leading players.