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.