I've never really gotten into crime thrillers, but I've heard good things about Tess Gerritsen, and I'm also a CSI fan. Hence, when a windfall of Gerritsen books presented itself, I had to jump at the chance. The Surgeon is the first of Gerritsen's Jane Rizzoli books, and it's quite the compelling read. As detailed and gory as CSI would be if it weren't on network television, it's also full of vivid characters and an intriguing serial killer who will test Rizzoli and her compatriots to the bitter end.
There's a madman on the loose in the greater Boston area during a hot, sultry July. His technique is horrific but very specific, and the local media has started calling him "The Surgeon" because his methods indicate that he has some kind of medical expertise. The only clue seems to be the similarity between these crimes and an attack inflicted on Dr. Catherine Cordell when she lived in Savannah, Georgia. But her attacker is dead, killed by her own hands. What is the fascination that the killer seems to have with her? And how can he know so much about what was done to her? Will they be able to keep her safe and solve these brutal crimes before everything goes to hell?
Gerritsen seems to be easing her readers into Jane Rizzoli's personality, because the book has multiple viewpoints and often seems to be more about Cordell and the cop who is falling for her, Thomas Moore. Rizzoli's definitely in there, though, and Gerritsen does a wonderful job with her. Subsequent books (if the second book is to be believed) are all told from Rizzoli's point of view, so perhaps Gerritsen was concerned that Rizzoli's prickly personality would not hit it off with fans. I don't know, but I'd say her concerns were unfounded, if that is the case. While she's not the most likable person around, that's part of what makes her interesting.
Most of the other characters are fairly well done too, especially the main ones and the killer. Gerritsen delves deep into Cordell and Moore's psyches, making the horrified reader care about them when things start to go wrong. Both characters are damaged by their pasts, and both are only able to finally reach out to each other as with no one else.
Gerritsen also does well with the killer, tap dancing along the line between revealing who he is and giving us some insight into his psyche. The brief scenes from his point of view are set off in italics, so it's obvious from a glance that he's the one talking. We hear a lot about what drives him without being given any detail about who he is, preserving the mystery. Slowly, as the book goes on, these passages add more detail, revealing where he is and what he does. Unfortunately, unlike a regular mystery, it's not a matter of "guess which character is the killer," not allowing the reader to try and predict who it will turn out to be. If that's a trait of the genre, then constant thriller readers won't have the same problem I did.
Gerritsen's plotting is superb, creating an intricate web that is slowly revealed to the reader as the cops discover it. She shows her medical knowledge (she's a former intern who turned to writing), but usually in an interesting fashion. There are lots of medical details, but it never sounds like a textbook, as characters like Rizzoli are forced to ask for a clearer explanation. Of course, readers with very weak stomachs may want to avoid these books, as Gerritsen doesn't pull any punches in describing crime scenes, autopsies, and the like. There is a lot of blood, though it's almost always after the fact (with the exception of the riveting conclusion, where there's actually some "on-screen" violence).
The only fault I can really find with The Surgeon is the relentless negativity in the book. It is extremely dark, but none of the cops even make any good, black-humored jokes. Being in the middle of the second Rizzoli book now, I think Gerritsen may have realized that, as there is some levity amidst all the blood and sex crimes in that one. Not a whole lot, as a subject like this shouldn't be trivialized, but enough to make it more realistic.
This darkness carries over into Rizzoli's character in general; she has nothing good in her life. I loved the friendship that she develops with Moore, as he's the only man who seems to understand that she's having problems being the only female cop in Boston's homicide division, but even that doesn't bring a lot of joy considering some of the events in the novel. While I'm sure she probably did, I don't remember Rizzoli even cracking a smile, which illustrates how gloomy it all is.
That being said, The Surgeon is a wonderful first novel in the series as Gerritsen turns her sights from medical thrillers and romance novels to crime fiction. She holds it together wonderfully, giving her characters enough hooks to make them interesting and making us want to read subsequent books about them. This novel is for CSI fans and for fans of gritty crime stories everywhere. Just make sure you're not eating when you read it.