TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 9 October 2006
Having read all five previous novels in the Rizzoli crime thriller series almost back-to-back in recent weeks, I was hungrily looking forward to getting my hands and eyes onto the sixth and latest offering. There was quite a lot of hype surrounding its release, built around the premise that there is a parallel species actually living alongside the human race who look exactly like us but who are descended from an evil bloodline dating back to pre-biblical times - there are apparently several names for this Satanic breed but one of the better known is Nephilim, who, legend has it, were originally created by a consummation between fallen angels and little-known offspring of Adam, the first man on Earth. There's a rather familiar concept here, one of a conspiracy involving the Christian and Catholic churches that suggests that certain events in age-old history have either been erased or manipulated in order to satisfy the highest powers among those and other faiths. Something not drastically different was pulled off more successfully in The Da Vinci Code, even if that novel lacked the strong characterisations so thoroughly and convincingly portrayed by Tess Gerritsen in the Rizzoli portfolio. Basically this is mutton dressed as lamb, a by-the-numbers serial killer tale with the cops looking for the baddie, but what could have otherwise been a scary, tense and gruesome thriller (which Ms.G knows how to write) is instead diluted as a result of her determination to wrap it around, or within, a number of ideas she learned of in such ancient publications as The Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees.
Anyone buying this book who has never tried the author's work before may not be as tempted to sample her wares again as would probably have been the case with either The Surgeon, The Apprentice, Vanish, or possibly Body Double. The first three were excellent and have made their creator a regular NYT Top Ten bestseller, and deservedly so - but I can now understand why she was so apprehensive about The Mephisto Club just prior to its launch. It made the Top Ten again, it's true, but that was almost inevitable given the height of expectation. I fear though that this latest offering will prove to be one of the weakest in the Rizzoli sextet, because it lacks originality, character development and perhaps most importantly it never threatens to portray the sense of malevolent evil that the story is based on. On the lighter side, the highlights for me were the often (and deliberately) hilarious fly-on-the-wall observations of the Rizzoli family on a Christmas Day, but much as I enjoyed these brief respites, I cannot help but consider them to be somewhat incongruous to the plot-line and the mood that the author has spent so much time in trying to instil in the reader. Meanwhile we have the ubiquitous `love interest', which falls on the shoulders of Dr Maura Isles, and the timing of her bedroom encounter could really not have been less probable, given that an hour or two earlier she discovered a woman she knew brutally stabbed to death. And the man she selected to, shall I say, come in to her life, made a pretty rapid exit - which in my view is another improbability given the lengthy build-up to that carnal meeting, the seeds of which had been sewn and nurtured through at least two previous novels.
In a nutshell, this story lacks passion. The notion of evil as a living entity was never really carried off with any conviction for the reader or by the writer, and the side issues in the lives of the leading characters seemed to be patched on in an almost obligatory way to provide some kind of relief from the otherwise monotonous examinations of the Mephisto Foundation's objectives. It was always known that there was one person behind the savage slayings of the all-female victims, and even the killer's identity is revealed at a very early stage, but unlike The Surgeon (which thoroughly examined the mind and motives of a psychopathic serial killer) the reader of this latest book never really shares those dark emotions with the perpetrator of what on paper is sickening and grizzly murder. The horrors are merely matter-of-fact rather than surreal or shocking, the suspense is kept to a minimum because we are pretty much told what's going on and who's doing it, and any sense of mystery is dulled by these revelations too. So it's a 'crime-something', but you can't really attach thriller, mystery or suspense blockbuster. If the writer tried to convince us that there is an `evil race' co-existing with normal human beings - which she does by making brief references to such people or places as Pol Pot, Kosovo and Rwanda - then in my humble and regrettable opinion she has failed. The truth is simpler and less glamourous : there are good people and there are bad people. I thought Tess' intellectual examinations of what makes evil people so evil was carried off with much greater conviction in The Apprentice, and in that tale there was no mention of evil spirits or Satanic worship. Instead it was the more interesting pursuit of physical, biological and psychological imperfections, and it was the more original for it.
If The Mephisto Club is, or may be, your first foray into the Rizzoli series, I would urge you to try most if not all of the other five preceding this one. Frankly, they are all markedly superior.