Fresh off the success of The Surgeon, Tess Gerritsen continues her Jane Rizzoli series with The Apprentice. She ratchets things up a notch in this book, some for the better and some for the worse. Many of the problems I had with The Surgeon Gerritsen dispenses with this time around, making for a much better book. However, she also gets far more detailed with the crime scene stuff than she did before, too. Those with squeamish stomachs (or those who just don't like that sort of thing) should probably avoid this book, and most likely this series.
It's a year after the events of The Surgeon, and Jane Rizzoli is still haunted by the aftereffects of Warren Hoyt's attack on her at the climax of that novel. Her hands still show the scars, and Hoyt still invades her dreams. But there's no time to dwell on that when she's called to a horrific crime scene in a well-to-do Boston neighborhood, where a man's throat has been slit and it looks like he was forced to watch his wife be raped. The woman is missing, but some of the evidence at the crime scene looks remarkably like Hoyt's handiwork. This is, of course, impossible, as Hoyt is rotting in jail. There are enough differences that the culprit is obviously somebody else, but the similarities are jarring. Did Hoyt have an apprentice? Things go from bad to worse as Rizzoli takes the lead in the investigation, despite an FBI agent showing up. Rizzoli doesn't trust him, but can she trust herself either, especially when Hoyt escapes? Will the master and the apprentice team up, and wreak havoc in Rizzoli's life? It's a race against time, and Rizzoli has to figure out what's going on before they come after her.
Let's get the big barrier out of the way first, so that you can move on to another book if this is a deal-breaker. There is a lot of gore in this novel, both during the autopsy scenes and the crime scenes. I can't emphasize enough that, if you have a problem with blood and guts, you should avoid this novel like you would Pauly Shore. Gerritsen pulls no punches in her descriptions, especially of the crime scenes to which Rizzoli is called.
One of the greatest things about The Surgeon was the characterization, especially Rizzoli’s. Gerritsen continues that mastery here, deepening our understanding of Rizzoli even more as she's the only viewpoint character in the book (other than the passages told from Hoyt's point of view). One of my complaints was how dark her life was; she had no happiness whatsoever. This time, Gerritsen lightens the brushstrokes a bit, giving her some joy as well.
As always in Rizzoli's life, that joy is tied to tragedy or darkness in some way, but the fact that there actually is some is a plus. The book ends on a really upbeat note compared to last time, where the only happiness was Thomas Moore's. Yes, Rizzoli has family problems, and yes, she has problems dealing with people, but this book actually has contains some humor. Some of the cops crack bad jokes, and even Rizzoli gets in on the act a little bit. The humor, of course, can be very black, but it still lightens things up a touch.
Gerritsen's characterization skills are also deftly applied to two other cops: Korsak, the guy who calls her to the first crime scene, and FBI agent Dean. Korsak becomes sympathetic as the case goes on and we find out more about him, especially when it appears he's being crowded out of his own case. Rizzoli develops a good relationship with him, and it's one of the things that lightens her character. Dean, on the other hand, is enigmatic to a fault, but his relationship with Rizzoli becomes too predictable. While his secret isn't obvious, the end result of the revelation kind of is. I'm willing to forgive it a little, however, as it definitely adds to Rizzoli's character. It's too bad it couldn't have been a little more original, however.
The plotting is simply gorgeous. While initially it seems too soon to go back to the whole Warren Hoyt thing, as the book builds it becomes a lot more interesting as his fantasies begin to center on Rizzoli instead of his original victim, Dr. Cordell. He's still playing games, but this time it's a battle of wits between two hunters rather than a hunter and his prey. The sections from his point of view (once again in italics to set them off) are even more effective because we know who he his. Gerritsen doesn't have to try to cloak the person's identity, and we're immediately able to get into his psyche.
It's too bad, however, that the apprentice himself isn't as well-realized. His identity is interesting once it was revealed, but I didn't like how essentially faceless he was. Getting inside Hoyt's head is such a trip that his apprentice (called "The Dominator" in the book) is almost superfluous to the story. Plot-wise he is important, but I didn't really care about him and what he was doing; he was almost a distraction.
While The Apprentice doesn't quite measure up to The Surgeon, mainly due to the killer's facelessness, Gerritsen improves on some of that book's shortcomings. I have a feeling I'm going to greatly enjoy the rest of this series. I'm certainly looking forward to the next one.