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Book Review: The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

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Tess Gerritsen’s mystery/thriller series about Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles keeps hitting the bestseller lists, and deservedly so. As a former internist (she started writing full-time once she started hitting those bestseller lists), Gerritsen’s medical knowledge is first-rate and is always interesting.

But the on-going relationship between the two protagonists, Rizzoli and Isles, is what draws me back to the series time after time. The women are both strong and independent in same but different ways, and they’re equally vulnerable on separate fronts.

Rizzoli is a hardnosed, no-nonsense cop that goes for the throat of any problem placed before her. She takes no prisoners. She also has a very black-and-white view of the world that Dr. Isles doesn’t necessarily agree with in every instance. In The Mephisto Club, Jane is happily married and has a baby. Fans who have followed the series have seen all those additions to Rizzoli’s life take place during the course of the series.

Dr. Isles is the coroner of the team. Where Rizzoli grills suspects and stays after them till she catches the first lie and breaks the investigation open, Dr. Isles solicits answers from the dead during autopsies. Dr. Isles has gone through a bitter divorce (fans have even gotten to meet the ex and form their own opinions of the guy) and now finds herself in love with a priest, Father Daniel Brophy. Up until this book, Brophy and Dr. Isles have teetered on the edge of having a relationship, something that neither one of them might survive in their respective job fields. Or emotionally. And Rizzoli definitely wouldn’t support such an liaison because of her friendship with Dr. Isles and her church upbringing.

Rizzoli and Dr. Isles get called out to a crime scene where a young woman named Lori Ann Tucker has been violently murdered. Even seasoned homicide investigators get shocked by the macabre nature of the murder. While Rizzoli is there, Dr. Isles arrives and takes custody of the body, which has been subjected to amputations of the head and hand. Satanic symbols, upside-down crosses, and a Latin phrase, “Peccavi”, written on the wall fill the apartment. It doesn’t take long for whispers of a ritualistic murder to start up.

Back at the lab, Dr. Isles processes the body, making the chilling discovery that one of the hands recovered at the scene doesn’t belong to the murder victim. Somewhere out there, another young woman lies dead or has been horribly maimed.

Following up on the leads, Rizzoli quickly comes into contact with The Mephisto Foundation. They claim to be an organization dedicated to finding and destroying demons. Rizzoli doesn’t believe in demons, though, and isn’t exactly enamored of the foundation’s wealthy and influential leader, Anthony Sansone. Sansone makes no bones about it: he definitely believes in demons, and claims to be descended from one.

The novel crashes through chapters, involving more murders and deliberate clues left by the murderer. A female police detective is murdered next, followed by another death, this one hitting closer to home for Rizzoli and Dr. Isles. As the suspense ratchets up, so does the uncertainty about things that go bump in the night. The Mephisto Club flirts with the line between suspense and supernatural.

Part of the action leaps over to Lily, a young woman who’s spent the last 12 years running from a demon. Her life is harsh and stark, and the reader instantly feels sympathetic toward her.

In the midst of the investigation and the murders, though, it’s the human stories about the two protagonists that really take center stage. Dr. Isles’s maybe relationship with Father Brophy reaches a sudden and irrevocable climax, and Rizzoli’s parents split up, totally blowing Rizzoli’s world and her sense of how things are supposed to be.

When Rizzoli finds out what has happened between Dr. Isles and Father Brophy, then tension between the two women becomes sharp and wicked. They’ve been together through so many emotional things, as well as danger mixed in with their investigations, that it seemed nothing would tear them apart. But this could be the one thing that will.

Gerritsen’s writing is amazing, as usual. She propels her readers through the story with an accustomed ease. She adds layers to the characters in quickly drawn scenes, and shows that Rizzoli and Dr. Isles live in the same real world we inhabit, and that their problems aren’t that far removed from ours.

In this book, Gerritsen also gets to use some of her personal interests in archeology, history, and religion as she leavens her crime story with all of these things. She trots out a lot of information, but you never trip over it as you read, and it advances the story in twisted ways that made me start wondering what was truly going on. Suddenly there was more going on than just the mystery of who was committing the murders.

The novel is set, as usual, in Boston. The city comes alive as Rizzoli and Dr. Isles move through it. But Gerritsen also bring Italy to life through Lily, the young girl on the run for her life. The basilica beneath Rome in particular caught my attention because, as Gerritsen points out, it was used in one of the Indiana Jones movies. It’s a perfectly creepy place, and the secrets that Gerritsen reveals through Lily ring true. It makes me want to go see it for myself.

Although The Mephisto Club stands well enough on its own, I’d really encourage readers to begin reading the earlier books first. If you haven’t read Gerritsen before, I think you’ll be back. Reading this book first takes away some of the twists and turns of the earlier novels that really pack a punch. Even if you think you’re just interested in the supernatural/historical/Da Vinci-like puzzle, I think you’re going to come back to the series. Even so, you’ll enjoy the other books anyway.

Gerritsen is a gifted writer, one who likes to get it right, and she moves a story along at a breakneck pace. She also has support material on her website.

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About Mel Odom

  • This really sounds fantastic. I haven’t heard of her before but now I have to pick up some of her books. I’ll have to start with the first one though, I’d have to know all the back story. Thanks for the review, I really enjoyed it!