Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Last To Die" by Tess Gerritsen

Three teenagers - Claire, Will and Teddy - are all survivors of massacres that killed their entire families. When their foster families are then slaughtered, yet they survive again, it is obvious something sinister is up. That is what Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles believe, but they have to investigate on their own time, as the head detective on the case - Detective Darren Crowe - is insistent on following a different lead that is closer to home.

The three orphans are now at Evensong, a special learning institute for children whose lives have been affected by serious crime. It is run by Anthony Sansone and Lily Saul, who were introduced in Gerritsen's previous novel "The Mephisto Club". It is also now the base for Julian "Rat" Perkins, who was introduced in "The Killing Place", and is now an important part of Maura's life after surviving the near-fatal events of that book. Jane and her partner Det. Barry Frost track down leads to try and determine whether the person who is after the three orphans is trying to get into Evensong - or might already be there.

I always look forward to the next Tess Gerritsen novel. You are always guaranteed a fast-paced, entertaining read, and this is no expection. However, it is not quite up to the standard of her usual work. The plot is interesting, but we simply spend too much time with Claire, Will, Teddy and even Julian, and their high school club "The Jackals". We also learn a lot of background about peripheral Jackal member characters who have little bearing on the plot. Jane jokes that "The Jackals" is basically CSI High School and that's unfortunately not far off the mark. When you have several teenagers running around with their trusty dog Bear, the proceedings start to feel suspiciously like Enid Blyton's The Secret Seven. The novel started to take on a distinctly juvenile tone and basically lacked the edge that typifies your usual Tess Gerritsen novel.

My mum finished the book around the same time I did and suggested that Gerritsen is ready to develop her own young adult fiction series centred around The Jackals. Kathy Reichs and Harlan Coben have both started their own series of young adult books, so this possibility seems frighteningly likely. It's a pity their introduction had to take up so much space here.

Another irksome element is the inclusion of a lot of family drama. Jane's father has decided he wants to get the family back together - right when Vince Korsak has asked Jane's mother to marry him. Jane's mother is torn over her decision, as family is so important to her. I appreciate that the family drama does carry over from one book to another - the strand isn't conveniently dropped by the time the next book rolls around - but it just feels so out of place. When you're dragged out of an intriguing mystery to spend an entire chapter centred around this family drama, all you really want is to get back to the action. I'm not at all bothered by the inclusion of the family drama in the TV show "Rizzoli & Isles" as it is a character-driven show with a lot more output (15 episodes a year, usually), so it can afford to put time aside to explore the relationships in depth. With the novel, I'm more interested in the mystery/conspiracy at hand. But that's just me.

It was good to see so many characters from previous novels pop up here. In particular, it made me want to go back and read "The Mephisto Club"! Darren Crowe is a good antagonistic character, and more should be done with him. It was also nice to have Detective Thomas Moore show up in a few chapters. He was the main protagonist in "The Surgeon", the very first novel in the series. And despite my concern about the focus on The Jackals, I quite liked the character of Julian Perkins. Always good to have a teen character around who isn't bratty and annoying.

If anything, perhaps it was my high expectations that let me down. "Last To Die" is a lot better than most stuff out there, with a well-developed mystery and some solid twists delivered in the conclusion. But it is definitely not up to par with Gerritsen's usual output, and I will be most annoyed if my mum is proven right and a teen novel centred around The Jackals does show up on bookshelves in the near future. Though I would probably still check it out!

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