I’d never read a Tess Gerritsen book before Last to Die – in fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t know much about this author. Encouraged to try her work by another fantastic crime writer, Australian, Katherine Howell, I picked up her latest, not realising that Last to Die was actually the tenth book in a series featuring Boston PD, Jane Rizzoli and her friend, Medical Examiner, Maura Isles. The fact I read this book out of order was irrelevant. Having never watched the TV series either, the women and the setting were unfamiliar to me – so I came to this novel fresh and uninitiated. Not that any of this changes the fact that Last to Die is an exciting tightly-plotted and paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
When three young people are the only survivors of brutal massacres that should have, by all rights, taken them as well – not once in their lives, but twice, Rizzoli knows that something terrible is brewing. That these three young people also find themselves boarders at a Maine school, Evensong, for young victims of crime is no coincidence either. A haven from the outside world, the school has been designed to protect its students, kids who have all suffered in some way at the hands of others, felt crime firsthand. But not even the fortress-like Evensong, with its alert and empathetic instructors and Edenic surroundings can protect these three kids from a killer with a fixation… and, it appears, neither can Rizzoli or Isles, especially when they are unable to convince those who can offer security that something or someone dark and dangerous is waiting in the shadows, someone who will do anything to protect the past, a past of which these kids were a part.
While this is ostensibly a crime novel, the setting and plot, especially the notion of endangered children and the cloistered and closed principal setting of a Gothic boarding school, likens it to a thriller/horror narrative as well. The concept of threat lurking in every corner, of even the most normal of surroundings being inflected with menace and thus transforming into something sinister, infuses the pages and adds a particular frisson to the narrative. Grisly murders are graphically described adding to the sense of impending doom that the two principal female characters seem unable to prevent. Only the young people appear to be able to take what’s happening in their stride. I confess that when some of the boarders set up a club to aid the adult investigation into what’s happening in their school, I thought readers were going to be given a cross between Harry Potter, his friends and Hogwarts and Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Three Investigators. But the young students’ desire, in fact, need to render assistance works well and believably and becomes a wonderful opportunity to explore relationships, trust and communication between generations and even professions.
Overall, this was a terrific read and certainly won’t be the last Gerritson I read.