Review: “Keeper Of The Bride” By Tess Gerritsen (Novel)

Well, since the weather was still extremely hot after I finished the previous novel I reviewed, I needed another “easy reading” thriller novel that I could enjoy in this dreadful weather.

Luckily, a week or so earlier, I’d been looking online for second-hand books when I happened to notice that Tess Gerritsen had written several stand-alone thriller novels before she started her famous “Rizzoli And Isles” detective series. Intrigued, I bought a copy of Gerritsen’s 1996 novel “Keeper Of The Bride” (which, surprisingly, was actually cheaper when bought as part of an omnibus).

So, with the weather being what it was and the novel being both a thriller and a short novel, it seemed like the perfect time to take a look at it 🙂

Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Harlequin MIRA (UK) paperback omnibus that contained the copy of “Keeper Of The Bride” that I read.

The novel begins in a church in Portland, Maine. Nina Cormier is hiding in one of the back rooms, stricken by disbelief at the fact that her fiancee – Robert Bledsoe – has called off their wedding at the last minute, leaving her there with lots of gifts to return and lots of money wasted on a wedding dress. After sending her sister away, Nina eventually meets the priest and asks him to give her a lift home. They sit in the car outside the church, whilst he tries to give her a reassuring talk about how unexpected things happen and that fate can be a mysterious thing. Then, the church explodes.

Meanwhile, local bomb squad detective Sam Navarro is getting an angry lecture from the D.A. about the death of a rookie cop in a warehouse blast sometime earlier. Luckily for Sam, the chief has his back and is able to get the D.A. to back off for a while. However, none of the bomb squad have any real leads on the latest spate of bombings, other than physical evidence that suggests that the culprit may be a copy-cat attacker who is following in the footsteps of a recently-deceased bomb-maker called Vincent Spectre. Then, a few minutes later, Sam gets a call about the church.

When he arrives there, he questions Nina and examines the crime scene. None of it makes any sense, the previous attacks having all taken place in warehouses and places like that. Sometime later, Nina is run off of the road by another car and survives the crash with only minor injuries. When Sam hears about it, he rushes to the scene and discovers a bullet hole in the car window. Someone is trying to kill Nina and it is up to him to catch them before they do…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really enjoyable suspense thriller, with fairly good detective and romance elements too 🙂 Yes, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything like that, but if you want a fun, relaxing “feel good” thriller novel that is vaguely reminscent of TV shows like “NCIS” or a slightly more “realistic” mid-budget version of the movie “Speed“, then this one is definitely worth a read 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. Although there are a couple of brief car chases, this is much more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel, and it works really well 🙂 The plot moves at a decent pace, with the constant threat of an unseen killer lurking in the background, some mysterious criminal intrigue, several perilous situations and a nail-biting time limit or two. All of this stuff works fairly well and ensures that there aren’t really any boring moments here. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the novel’s focus on bomb defusal and a game of cat-and-mouse between a detective and a criminal also reminded me a little bit of the movie “Speed”, which is never a bad thing 🙂

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re also fairly good – although they take a slight back seat to the story’s thriller and drama elements. Sam interviews people, examines crime scenes, makes deductions from physical evidence and also comes up with theories occasionally. All of this stuff feels fairly realistic, in a “police procedural” kind of way, and helps to add a bit of extra intrigue to the story. But, as mentioned earlier, this is more of a thriller than a traditional “whodunnit” – with, for example, the criminal’s identity being revealed about two-thirds of the way through the novel and the emphasis shifting to trying to stop him before he sets off another bomb.

The novel’s romance elements are also really well-handled too 🙂 Initially, Sam and Nina are reluctant to get too close to each other because they have both recently been through failed relationships. Likewise, much to Nina’s consternation, Sam is also torn between his duty as a policeman and his feelings for Nina – which he wants to spare because he knows from experience that relationships forged in the middle of cases rarely last long afterwards.

Not only does this add a lot of extra drama to the story, but it also means that the few steamy trysts that the couple share feel a lot more passionate and impulsive because they both know that they will regret it the next morning. All of this stuff helps to add a bit more intensity and realism to the novel’s romance elements and prevents it from feeling too much like a “traditional” romance, whilst also still allowing it to fit easily into the genre too.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Both Sam and Nina come across as fairly realistic and “good” people, who are filled with conflicting emotions and enough flaws to make the reader care about what happens to them. Both also get a reasonable amount of characterisation and backstory too. Although many of the background characters feel very slightly stylised, this actually works quite well – since it gives the novel a vaguely movie/TV like atmosphere. Likewise, although the novel’s main villain can be a little bit cartoonishly evil, this is handled in a wonderfully dramatic way that wouldn’t look out of place in a mid-budget 1990s movie 🙂

As for the writing, it is really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a mildly informal and “matter of fact” way that not only helps the story to move at a decent pace, but also helps to add a slightly stylised “police procedural”/mid-budget film atmosphere to the story too 🙂 Reading this novel feels like relaxing in front of the telly and watching a random detective show 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is superb 🙂 At a gloriously efficient 251 pages in length, there isn’t a single wasted page here and this is one of those satisfyingly short novels that can be enjoyed in just a few hours 🙂 Likewise, the pacing is really good too – with lots of dramatic events, intriguing mystery/uncertainty and suspenseful moments that mean that the story never really slows down too much or gets boring. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast novel, this one certainly moves at a fairly decent speed 🙂

As for how well this twenty-four year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 For the most part, it pretty much feels like a modern novel – with only a few tell-tale details (like car phones instead of mobile phones) and the vaguely “Speed”-like atmosphere cluing the reader in to the fact that this is a novel from the mid-1990s 🙂 But, even so, this is a pretty “timeless” novel 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun suspense thriller novel that is perfect for when you just want to relax with a compelling “feel good” novel 🙂 With a good combination of suspense, crime, thrills and romance, this is a novel that never gets boring and manages to be both nostalgically “1990s” whilst also being timeless enough to feel modern. Yes, it doesn’t do anything too new, but if you enjoy TV shows like “NCIS” or movies like “Speed”, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel 🙂

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

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

Well, I was still in the mood for a thriller novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Tess Gerritsen’s 2003 novel “The Sinner”, which I ended up finding a second-hand copy of online shortly after enjoying Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” about a month or so earlier.

Although this novel is the third novel in Gerritsen’s “Rizzoli and Isles” series, it can probably be read as a stand-alone story. However, at least one of the story’s sub-plots follows on from “The Apprentice”, although there are recaps during these parts.

So, let’s take a look at “The Sinner”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS (although I’ll avoid revealing whodunnit).

This is the 2010 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Sinner” that I read.

The novel begins in India, with an American man called Howard Redfield taking a taxi to a remote rural area. The driver refuses to take him any further, so Howard makes the rest of his journey on foot. When he arrives at his destination, he sees nothing but burnt buildings and the remains of funeral pyres. Taking out a camera, he begins to document everything before he notices a woman walking towards him. As she gets closer, Howard sees that her face is missing.

Meanwhile, in Boston, medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles is finishing a routine autopsy on a heart attack victim when she gets a call from Detective Rizzoli. Isles drives to a local convent called Graystones Abbey. In the chapel, one nun has been murdered and another one has been taken to hospital in a critical condition. There are no witnesses, the press is starting to become interested in the case and, worst of all, Isles’ ex-husband has recently arrived in town and wants to meet up with her.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling and atmospheric detective thriller with some drama, horror and medical thriller elements too.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, the story is the kind of police procedural that you would expect. Interestingly, Dr. Isles is more of a main character in this novel than she was in “The Apprentice”. So, whilst there are still quite a few scenes scenes of Rizzoli questioning witnesses and investigating crimes, this novel spends quite a bit of time in the autopsy room. These autopsy scenes, along with a couple of more ominous moments, also help to add some elements of horror to the story whilst also introducing various medical mysteries and/or tantalising clues for Rizzoli to follow up on.

Interestingly, this is one of those detective stories where the mystery is actually more interesting than the solution. It is a case with lots of plot twists, a side-mystery or two, clues that can easily be missed and grim moments and it is really compelling. However, although the later parts of the story are certainly dramatic, some parts of the conclusion felt a little bit random and there wasn’t really enough foreshadowing about the identity of the killer. Yes, the resolution of some other elements of the main mystery still provide a satisfying dramatic payoff, but I’d liked to have seen more clues about the killer.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly decent. In addition to lots of small plot twists, tantalising clues and a fairly fast-paced writing style, this novel also includes a few moments of suspense and horror to keep the reader on their toes too. Likewise, in true thriller fashion, there’s also a fairly good mixture of small-scale and large-scale drama too. This novel is a fairly compelling one that is well worth binge-reading over a couple of evenings.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel also contains some fairly effective horror elements too. In addition to several grisly autopsy/ crime scene scenes, there are also a few scenes set in creepy locations, some moments of suspense, some character-based/psychological horror, some disturbing plot elements and some scenes of medical horror too. Although this isn’t really a “horror novel” as such, it certainly takes influence from them during a few moments and, like a classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novel, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really good. It is written in the kind of informal, fast-paced and matter of fact way that you’d expect from a thriller. However, the novel also takes the time to focus on things like descriptions and characterisation too, which really help to add a lot of extra atmosphere to the story too (eg: the story’s wintery setting etc..). Likewise, although this story includes it’s fair share of medical terminology and jargon, this is often written in a way where the meaning is either obvious from the context and/or explained well enough.

As for the characters, this novel is really good. Not only is it good to see more of a focus on Dr. Isles, but Rizzoli is still very much Rizzoli too. In addition to solving the mystery, both main characters each get a more drama-like sub-plot (revolving around their ex-partners), which allows for a lot of extra characterisation too. Likewise, although the bulk of the characterisation focuses on Rizzoli and Isles, there is still enough characterisation to make you care about many of the background characters too. However, although the novel does explain the killer’s motive and identity, I’d have liked to have seen a bit more characterisation for this character.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 416 pages, it’s a little on the longer side but it never really felt padded. Likewise, the novel is reasonably fast-paced, with frequent clues and moments of drama keeping the plot compelling and moving at a fairly decent pace. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced novel, this novel certainly moves at a good enough speed for a detective novel 🙂

All in all, although I slightly preferred Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” to this novel, it’s still a really good detective thriller story 🙂 If you want a police procedural story with a bit of extra drama and horror, and a wonderfully wintery setting, then this one is certainly well worht reading.

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

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.