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PECCAVI.....I didn't give it 5 stars
on 12 September 2006
Anyone who has read THE SURGEON or THE APPRENTICE will know why my expectations were sky-high for this, the third in the Jane Rizzoli series. Those two novels were excellent, full of tension, suspense and pace. But here, Tess has gone way off the boil and has somehow turned what should have been a crime thriller into something of a romantic piece of ho-hum that borders on chick-lit. Borders, I stress, without quite entering. Tess claims that The Sinner was a fresh new challenge for her - and I quote from the great lady herself :-
"I actually found THE SINNER one of my most challenging and satisfying books to write, because it was not a simple serial killer book, and I couldn't rely on that automatic internal drumbeat of tension that a stalking/serial killer novel has. Serial killers are actually easy villains to create and I always feel like I'm taking the easy way out when I do one of those. But taking an overseas corporate horror and turning it into a homicide case in Boston was a lot harder"
Well, if it was a lot harder, it shows. The corporate horror she refers to is, I suppose, at the core of the plot here but it really hardly ever shows its face. I am actually intrigued by corporate crime, fraud or corruption so if anything I would have welcomed it with open arms had I known this in advance. But while there are some gruesome murders early on, followed by the always excellent forensic and medical analysis, in truth the meat and bones of this story is represented by the continuing dilemmas in the private life of Detective Rizzoli, alongside those of her associate in the morgue Dr Maura Isles. In Rizzoli's case her focus of attention is enigmatic FBI agent Gabriele Dean (carried over from The Apprentice) but, very disappointingly, Dean has only a bit part to play in this third novel. Meanwhile Dr Isles, who seems to have replaced Dr Ashford Tierney as Medical Examiner (without any explanation that I remember) tussles with the advances of her ex-husband Victor, a man who I kind of assumed to be about 60 years old judging by his name and could never quite remove that image from my vision. He's about 40 as it turns out.
The turmoils in these two women's love lives take centre stage ahead of the plot and storyline, that of the murder and serious assault of two nuns in a Boston convent. The investigation into these crimes, along with one or two other connected killings, never advances beyond background interest, and despite a reasonable allocation of pages to the crimes I have to say that no thrills are generated in doing so. One of the victims, a young nun, seems to have little involvement in the corporate corruption that is claimed to be this novel's mainstay, yet considerable time is spent investigating this story strand which, while interesting on its own, bears little relevance to the main point and direction of the tale itself. If anything, it only serves to contribute towards the unlikely discovery of maternal instincts suppressed within the very single and workaholic Rizzoli. I found Rizzoli to be a superbly drawn character in The Apprentice and could hardly wait for more of the same in The Sinner, but if anything it was an anti-climax due in part to the emergence of the somewhat less interesting `joint central character' of Dr Maura Isles. By having two female leads, as opposed to male/female in The Apprentice (Rizzoli & Dean) Tess has created something of an imbalance with few, if any, strong male characters at all. Gabriele Dean could have filled that role but once again, he hardly features at all even if what he actually does is highly influential.
We also lost the concept of a powerful, evil enemy in any character sense, unlike the `Surgeon' and the `Dominator' (the pseudonym used in The Apprentice). Tess says this was a very deliberate ploy but fans of the two earlier books - of whom there are many thousands if not millions - will be disappointed by the complete change of flavour and style of The Sinner. It was an attractive-sounding title that failed to deliver the expected goods, but I am optimistic that normal service will be resumed in BODY DOUBLE, VANISH and THE MEPHISTO CLUB.