TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 July 2010
This is the eighth in what is branded as the Rizzoli/Isles series, although the first (THE SURGEON) was originally intended to be a standalone, and Maura Isles didn't appear until the third novel THE SINNER. In this one, police procedurals take something of a back seat - as does Rizzoli, for the most part - because it's all about Boston medical examiner Dr Maura Isles who, after attending a pathologists' convention, makes a spontaneous decision to go on a short skiing trip with some old friends into the wintery isolation of the Wyoming outback. Things go badly wrong, Maura goes missing, and her friend Detective Jane Rizzoli goes on a rescue hunt. Central to the story's plot is a cult run by an all-controlling leader, a cult that is based on absolute control of the women while the men give up all their worldly possessions in return for a life of polygamy with mainly early-teen brides.
Although I personally find Maura Isles a rather bland and uninteresting character (one the author has admitted to be loosely based on herself), the story itself started out with good promise and easy-on-the-eye reading. It flows smoothly and it's easy to read 'just one more chapter'. At the halfway point, if not well beyond that, I would have expected, come the finish, to be posting a positive review of a very good novel. But it didn't turn out that way. Without spoiling things, let me just say that the twist (for want of a better word) is actually a complete let-down, a change in direction that in a way wastes all that has gone before. It's a real anti-climax with a nothing ending.
At times there are hints of Gerritsen going back to her romance roots, for this is really a different kind of novel altogether than the first two or three in the series, when Rizzoli was Rizzoli (not 'Jane' as she has become), when Gabriel Dean was a cool and magnetic FBI agent, and when explicit descriptions of autopsies were memorably vivid. There's also a confusing time-frame element, because at one point Rizzoli refers to her husband Gabriel as the man she met just two years earlier, when for regular Gerritsen readers that meeting actually took place in 2002, some seven or eight years ago. When Dean appears in this novel I immediately hoped that he would take a leading role, as he did in THE APPRENTICE, but it never happens. He's just a bit-part. Meanwhile there's the oh-so-dreary relationship between Maura and Daniel Brophy which has been dragging on for more books in this series than I care to remember - it might be every single one that Maura has been in, but whatever the number, it's very, very uninteresting.
So in the end I was disappointed. I've read at least a dozen Gerritsen novels including every one of the Rizzoli series (I still regard Maura Isles as a visitor), and despite a promising start this one faded into mediocrity at best. The author's decision to change direction late on, and create a kind of twist-that-wasn't, is a fatal error of judgement, and having taken a year off from writing I would have expected much better from her than this. It's an easy read, it offers potential early on, but the hoped-for slam-dunk never happens. It's frustrating because Gerritsen IS a good writer, and to her credit she doesn't spew out the same old dross that many crime-fiction authors seem to do, but it's still a disappointment and while it may be entertaining for anyone unfamiliar with her books, for fans of Gerritsen's best works this has to be regarded as well down the pecking order. I would question the wisdom of a ninth outing for Rizzoli, and would suggest that Gerritsen would be better advised to try something completely new, to start from scratch with completely new characters and concepts.