One of the ways I’ve coped during this insanest of years is by escaping into fiction, and it’s hard to beat the sheer escapism of a good murder mystery. Science fiction, my other favorite escapist drug, particularly the good stuff, is often parable, prophecy, or pointed social examination, but a murder mystery is typically just a rippin’ good yarn.
The older classics especially, for instance Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe (two favorites of mine), when you come down to it, are utterly preposterous. Fairy tales staring a fussy Belgian with his mustaches or a corpulent epicurean who never leaves his house, both brilliant and eccentric, both prone to that final scene, everyone gathered, for the denouement, “J’accuse!”
Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series is a very different kind of yarn.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve read the first eight books (except for the second), and found them serviceable escapist fare. As always, entertainment is a matter of taste, and that may be especially true with this series. It’s not for the faint of heart.
In fact, it’s not entirely to my taste, and it’s probably the case I won’t pursue the series further (other than reading the second book, which finally became available for online checkout in my library app; I’ll start reading it after I post this). It’s just a bit too gruesome and serial-killer oriented for me.
There was a CBS show, Criminal Minds, that aired from 2005 until this year, fifteen seasons. I had a buddy who was into it, said it was good, so I started watching it. It was about an FBI unit dedicated to tracking down serial killers.
Every week, another serial killer. I lasted two, maybe three, seasons. Ultimately, it was just too dark and joyless for me, and I stopped watching. (Same thing happened with Game of Thrones. Just too dark and joyless. I find life too dark and joyless; I won’t wallow in the same shit for entertainment, and I certainly don’t see it as escaping anything.)
Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles stories often take the reader inside the mind of the serial (or in one case, mass) killer, and it’s generally pretty dark and creepy in there.
There is also that stories like these tend to have a higher death count (a murder mystery really only needs on death), and the victims tend to be innocent bystanders (especially young women) rather than someone the murderer sought to kill for more directly personal reasons. There is also that such killers, pretty much by definition, aren’t rational (which makes them less interesting to me).
All in all, it’s really not my cup of tea.
But I’ve had a small crush on Angie Harmon since her days as ADA Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order (a series that, for whatever reason, never really grabbed my interest; I was out the door with Harmon).
As such I was a fan of the TV series, Rizzoli & Isles from the day it first aired. It wasn’t the greatest homicide detective series ever made, but it was a good escape, and I definitely approve of shows with female leads — especially when both leads are female.
On the other hand, the series miserably failed the Bechdel Test in nearly every episode, and it’s hard to find promotional images (DVD covers, posters, or whatnot) that don’t lean hard into the sexy.
But still, a series about an ace homicide detective and an ace medical examiner, both female, is a good step in the right direction. (And a key aspect of feminism is the notion that women can be anything they want, including sexy. So can men; it’s just harder for us to pull it off successfully.)
The show had seven seasons and ran from 2010 to 2016. I only slowly became aware the series and characters were based on the book series by Tess Gerritsen — who made a guest appearance, as a writer, on the show.
It wasn’t until I got into library apps and checking out ebooks online that I decided to dive into the Rizzoli & Isles book series. I did buy the DVDs of the series, but I never had plans to buy any of the books.
But the beauty of libraries is that you don’t have to, and I’ve been making full use of both these apps (Cloud Library and Libby) to read a lot of books I’d never spend money on (it’s been really wonderful).
Apple iBooks, for instance, offers the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe catalog, but roughly half the books are priced at $4.99 whereas the others are priced at $8.99. I’ve bought most of the five dollar ones, but I don’t love Nero Wolfe quite enough to pay nine dollars for a book I’ll read once. (Maybe twice if I live long enough.)
So Apple loses out, and by now I’ve read most of those other volumes I wouldn’t buy.
The same applies to all those Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot novels. No way would I pay more than a few bucks to own them, but Apple and Amazon think people should shell out full price. For very old books I can get from the library (so your loss you greedy assholes — especially you, Amazon; kind of coming to despise you).
It’s even worse with the Earle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason books. Apple offered four of them for $2.99 (a reasonable price) but any others in the series you’ll pay $8.99 or more for. (Unfortunately the library doesn’t have these either.)
One thing about these older books is that they don’t always age well. Agatha Christie is prone to the casual racism and imperialism of her day, and the Perry Mason books can be very sexist (the least offense being that all women are “girls”).
That’s another reason I won’t pay much to own them.
I will commend Rex Stout for escaping that. Nero and Archie have had some very interesting discussions about race, especially in the later books, which take place in the 1950s and 1960s. (Archie, on the other hand, is a bit of a sexist pig, although I’ll credit that he’s at least a gentleman about it.)
In any event, the Garritsen series is worth a look if your taste is so inclined. She’s filed somewhat under “romance/thriller/medical” — she has a catalog of romantic thrillers, and a smaller one of medical thrillers.
(Her Rizzoli & Isles books definitely contain some romance angles. Maura is hopelessly in love with a priest, for crying out loud.)
Not many of her books have their own Wikipedia page, which maybe says something about her popularity, but, for all they aren’t really my cuppa, I have to say the books carried me along — they did engage me. No complaints about Gerritsen’s writing skills!
If you were, or are, a big fan of Criminal Minds or CSI, you’d certainly enjoy these. If you watched the Rizzoli & Isles TV series, you’d definitely enjoy reading the original source material — the books are fairly close to the TV series.
Or rather, the TV series was fairly close to the book series, although there are some interesting changes. A big one is that Det. Vince Korsak (Bruce McGill in the TV series) is retired in the books. Another is that Det. Jane Rizzoli gets married and has a kid. (And Det. Frost is a married white guy.)
But if you’ve watched the series, you’ll find the books very familiar. The first one, The Surgeon (2001), introduces Det. Jane Rizzoli (and a key serial killer nemesis. “The Surgeon,” who was given an expanded role in the TV series).
The second book, The Apprentice (2002), introduces Dr. Maura Isles. From that point, Rizzoli and Isles are a team, although some books focus more on one than the other. Ice Cold (2010), for example, centers mainly on an adventure Dr. Isles has while away at a medical conference.
Speaking of the second book, someone checked it out while I was reading the first book, so I had to put it on hold. Apparently that person was a slow reader, since I read books three through eight while waiting.
In fact, I read a whole bunch of Nero Wolfe books while waiting.
Saturday it finally became available, and today I’ll tuck into it. Don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading others in the series. I sort of feel I’ve had my fill and will move on. (So many books, such little time.)
Overall, definitely recommended (if one likes that sort of thing).
Stay reading, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.