There is something about Tess Gerritsen's "Rizzoli & Isles" detective novel series that just grips you and doesn't let you go until you've devoured the entire novel. While some of her books have been better than others, all are riveting reads. Nothing changes in that respect with her latest, Last to Die. In fact, the twists and turns Gerritsen produces, the wonderful character work and exploration, and the suspense that keeps readers hanging all combine to form what is probably her best book since Vanish.
Three teenagers have more than their new hormones in common: they have all survived the massacre of their parents and guardians. Twice. When Boston detective Jane Rizzoli is called to the horrific scene where young Teddy Clock's foster family has been wiped out, she knows that something is horribly wrong. The feeling is heightened when medical examiner Maura Isles discovers that there are two more children with similar backgrounds at a remote school in Maine called Evensong, a school that takes in children of violence and helps them cope with it. Is there a connection between them? Is there a single killer out there targeting them? For what purpose? Shadows of the past reach forward, forcing Jane and Maura to figure out what's going on before more people die.
Gerritsen usually explores a central theme in her novels even as she keeps the suspense tight. Last to Die is about family, and it's interesting how she's able to explore this both through the terrible violence occurring around Rizzoli as well as the family drama that threatens to distract her at just the wrong moments. Her father, who walked out on her mother to live with a much younger woman, is back, and he wants his wife backójust when her mother has become engaged to Rizzoli's old partner, Korsak.
The relationship between Isles and the boy who saved her in Colorado two books ago also highlights the theme. He has been taken in by the staff at Evensong, making a life for him there. She is his mother-figure, though, and he is very happy to see her when she visits for two weeks. I love the developing relationship between them, both of them awkward as they are so used to being alone, this new parent-child relationship being almost forced upon them, and both having to get used to it.
Relationships are the core of the Rizzoli and Isles series, and Gerritsen's dialogue and plotting brings that out strongly. Isles and Julian, Rizzoli and her family, Rizzoli and Frost (her partner). Rizzoli's family is an ongoing subplot throughout the series, thus there is no conclusion to their story in this one. That may bother some people, but I like subplots that tie a series together, at least as long as some progress is made in them.
The actual murder plot in Last to Die is also brilliant. Gerritsen leads readers around, down dark alleys and dead ends with Rizzoli and Frost navigating. One can never tell what will be relevant to the resolution of the plot because Gerritsen keeps the reader guessing and doesn't skimp on the details, even when the road leads nowhere. It brings a sense of authenticity to a novel when you see detectives not take the correct fork in the road the first time.
As with most Gerritsen books, the last fifty pages of Last to Die will keep you glued to them while everything comes to fruition. Only a couple of characters who you know won't die (their names are on the series), but everybody else is fair game. Even during this climactic segment, Gerritsen throws readers a couple of curve balls.
The only complaint I may have about the book is the aftermath, where the ultimate resolution seems a bit far-fetched. It does, however, fit the book thematically and satisfies the reader, so it doesn't hurt the book as much as it might.
Last to Die is a thriller that you won't be able to put down.