Review: “The Apprentice” By Tess Gerritsen (Novel)

Well, for the final novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d look at something that isn’t technically a horror novel.

Between some point in the 1990s and the 2000s, mainstream publishing avoided horror fiction like the plague. So, novels that would have been classified as “horror” in the 1980s were often published as “psychological thrillers”, “crime thrillers” etc…. instead. And I’ll be looking at one of these novels today.

In particular, I’ll be looking at Tess Gerritsen’s 2002 detective thriller novel “The Apprentice”. This was a book that I found whilst browsing a second-hand bookshop in Emsworth a week or two earlier and, after looking at it, quickly realised that it was probably a slasher movie-style horror novel in disguise.

Although “The Apprentice” is apparently the sequel to another novel called “The Surgeon”, it can be read as a stand-alone novel (due to some well-placed recaps). However, having read “The Apprentice”, I’d advise that you read “The Surgeon” first since the recaps spoil the ending of that novel.

So, let’s take a look at “The Apprentice”. This review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid major ones.

This is the 2003 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Apprentice” that I read.

The novel begins with a segment showing a convicted serial killer witnessing a prison-yard stabbing and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Meanwhile, in Boston, detective Jane Rizzoli has been called out to investigate a grisly corpse that has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the street. After studying the body and talking to some of the other detectives, Rizzoli deduces that it was a bizarre accidental death rather than murder.

However, just after she works this out, she gets a pager message from a detective in Newtown asking her to visit a crime scene. A man has been murdered and his wife is missing. Not only that, the case seems to have some striking similarities to a serial killing case that she solved a year earlier. A case that still haunts her.

Things go from bad to worse when the FBI insists on joining the investigation, several bodies are found in the woods and the killer from Rizzoli’s previous case escapes from prison, eager to team up with the copycat killer and get revenge on Rizzoli….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really compelling, and creepy, detective story. It’s kind of like a mixture between a fast-paced thriller, a gritty police procedural and a horror novel. If you enjoy TV shows like “CSI” and “NCIS”, but wish that there was a bit more horror, then you’ll enjoy this novel.

Whilst this novel isn’t technically a horror novel, there are some brilliantly creepy horror elements here. Although there are well-placed moments of gruesome horror and/or medical horror, the novel focuses more on psychological horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror.

In addition to offering the reader chilling glimpses into one of the killers’ minds, the novel also focuses on how Rizzoli is haunted by a previous case and also fears that the killers will target her. Seriously, as detective novels go, this one is surprisingly creepy!

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re really well-written. Although this novel is something of a forensic police procedural novel, there are enough traditional detective elements (eg: stakeouts, drama, chases, interviews etc..) to add some compelling variety to the story. In addition to this, there are also some intriguingly mysterious characters, a clever red herring or two and a couple of dramatic plot twists too.

Likewise, the novel’s forensic elements are fairly well-handled, with intriguing clues not being fully explained until later points in the novel when the scientists have had time to study them. Likewise, although there is a lot of medical/scientific jargon in this novel, it is both well-explained and plot-relevant. Not to mention that many of the novel’s forensic scenes also allow for some surprisingly gross moments of horror too.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really well-written too. This novel moves at a fairly decent pace and, although there is relatively little in the way of action sequences, there are lots of moments of suspense, mysteries, close calls, twists, drama etc.. that really help to keep the story gripping. Likewise, aside from some medical/scientific segments, this novel is written in a fairly fast-paced thriller-like style too 🙂

In terms of the novel’s characters, they’re fairly compelling, if a little stylised. Whether it is Rizzoli, an expert detective who is haunted by her past but has to put on a brave face to avoid criticism from her colleagues (since she is the only female detective in the department). Whether it is the mysterious FBI agent, Gabriel Dean, who wants her thrown off of the case. Whether it is her fellow detectives, the pathologist Dr. Isles or the creepy serial killers, this is a novel with compelling characters.

The only criticisms I have of the characters are the fact that, despite the words “A Rizzoli And Isles Thriller” appearing on the cover, Dr. Isles is slightly more of a background character than you might initially expect (with Rizzoli being the main focus of the story). Plus, the two serial killers are also given ludicrously melodramatic nicknames by the police (eg: “The Surgeon” and “The Dominator”), which adds some unintentional comedy to the story.

Not only that, whilst the relative lack of characterisation for “The Dominator” adds a certain level of mysterious creepiness to him, it also feels like a missed opportunity for some even creepier narrative segments than the ones from “The Surgeon”‘s perspective.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Most of the novel uses fairly “matter of fact” thriller novel style third-person narration, but there are also some first-person perspective segments from the perspective of one of the killers. These are clearly signposted via italic text, written in a more formal style and, in a creepy touch, are also narrated in the present tense too. The mixture of these two styles of writing works surprisingly well and really helps to add some extra drama and variety to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 411 pages, this novel is a little on the long side, but this is fairly typical with thriller novels. Plus, thanks to the novel’s thriller elements, the pacing is really good too 🙂 This is a much more fast-paced novel than a “traditional” detective novel, with lots of dramatic, suspenseful, mysterious and/or creepy moments sprinkled throughout the story to make you want to read more 🙂

All in all, this is a really brilliant blend of the detective, horror and thriller genres 🙂 If you’re a fan of any of these three genres, then you’ll really enjoy this book 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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