If you remember where we left off, intrepid M.E. Maura Isles went to a medical conference in Wyoming to escape her attraction to Father Brophy, only to get stranded in a blizzard and nearly killed by a religious cult. Because these things happen, right? She also met a boy nicknamed Rat who was orphaned by the cult. He now lives at the school founded by the Mephisto Club, with occasional visits to Maura (who cautiously hopes for a sort of family of her own with this damaged young boy she understands so well). The conflicted emotions about her relationship with Brophy, meanwhile, continue to roil. Jane remains a fascinating character and perhaps the signature strong woman for a writer who excels at them, but most of the character development in these entries is being spent getting Maura’s personal life caught up to the interesting twists Jane took early in the series.
Who’s ready for Chinese assassins and a crime scene that seems to implicate Maura?!
A grisly murder (this series knows no other kind) in Chinatown leaves no trace of the suspect other than two silver hairs that don’t belong to a human. While investigating, Rizzoli and Isles uncover a link to a brutal multiple murder nineteen years earlier. A murder with only one survivor: a girl who disappeared and has remained silent ever since. A girl who has been training in deadly Chinese martial arts. A girl who has been patiently planning vengeance. A girl who appears to have ties to a mystical Chinese creature with a keen eye for bloody vengeance. Now it’s up to Rizzoli and Isles to find her and uncover her secrets before the next body appears.
As far as showcases for Gerritsen playing to her strength of writing kick-ass female characters go, The Silent Girl does very well. The titular girl almost becomes someone to root for in a sort of Kill Bill style, as does the wise old Chinese woman (and martial arts teacher) who seems to be helping her stay hidden. Like in Vanish, Gerritsen doesn’t treat the girl like a villain. She’s a woman who has been beaten down and refuses to stay down. Her tactics are … well, ‘morally questionable’ would be a ridiculous understatement. They’re full-blown illegal. But Gerritsen makes sure you understand where she is coming from and why she is doing the things she is doing. It’s a compelling story.
There are some problems, though. There’s very little mystery to be found here, but that isn’t actually my problem. You can still have a very effective mystery/thriller when the identity of the bad guy is essentially known to the reader. It’s just that the parts Gerritsen seems to think of as the mystery aspect aren’t actually very mysterious at all. They’re kind of obvious, actually. Even the final ‘twist.’ It weakens an otherwise solid entry in the Rizzoli and Isles series. And as we saw in The Mephisto Club, Gerritsen isn’t as suited to mysticism as she is to gritty realism.
Like Freaks, this is a little bit of filler to get fans hyped up for the next full novel in the series. It’s a short story only available as an eBook.
Maura attends a swank party where she meets a handsome, charming man. They talk. They flirt. They drink champagne. In the morning Maura wakes up to discover that a mystery man has been murdered. And all the evidence seems to point to Maura herself. With no memory of what happened the night before, Rizzoli and Isles must struggle with the possibility that Isles could be a murderer while combing through the evidence to see if there could be any other possible solution.
The thing is, whereas Freaks was a fun little romp for what it was, John Doe is a bit more dreary. It wants to take itself seriously like the novels but has none of the heft. We all know Maura’s name will be cleared in the end (especially since this isn’t a full story), so reading it is really just an exercise in getting from point A to point B. They actually adapted it into an episode of the TV series, where it almost worked. I say almost because they took Maura’s dedication to her job, which demands that she take the possibility that she may indeed be the killer, to sanctimonious levels.
Despite my complaints regarding this installment, I do actually like the idea of Rizzoli and Isles short stories and hope they continue.