I Know a Secret
The preferred term tends to be bitch. The latest trend leans toward ‘nasty’. But whatever wordage is used, popular opinion seems to be clear: “nevertheless, she persisted” is not a compliment when applied to women. This is the peripheral message of Tess Gerritsen’s latest thriller I Know a Secret; women who persist, who stand up when no one else does, often pay a high price for that perseverance. Then again, it can have its rewards.
This is book twelve of the Rizzoli and Isles series. While the mystery stands very well on its own, the author does scant character building for the leads since that has been thoroughly covered in the previous novels. I Know a Secret could be read without diving into the backlist but I advise starting with book one – The Surgeon. It’s an excellent introduction to some of the storylines that are continued in this tale.
It begins, as it usually does, with a body. Medical examiner Maura Isles is called to the scene of a rather peaceful looking death. A young woman lies on her bed, seemingly asleep, with the only macabre aspect being that her eyes, rather than sitting in her head where they belong, are held in one hand. There is a sense of familiarity to the sight for Maura but she shrugs it off to concentrate on the forensics of the moment.
Detective Jan Rizzoli, already at the scene, is disturbed by the crime. She doesn’t like the strange ones; they always mean trouble. Sure enough, the case becomes odder within hours as it turns out the sweet looking Goth chic found lying dead in her apartment is a horror film producer. Jane figures that gives her a nice, wide pool of suspects -co-workers, fans of the grisly fare the girl produced and anyone who might have been offended by her products. But then there’s the second odd murder.
A man, shot with three arrows, sits in the middle of a public venue in the early morning hours. Once more, aside from the obvious homicide, it is a peaceful scene. Both Maura and Jane intuit that the murders are connected but nothing about the venues or the people points to how. It is a case that will get stranger with each discovery, leading them on a trail that takes them from the annals of Catholic history to a modern-day school in a quiet suburb.
Adding to the stress of the situation are the numerous personal issues each woman is dealing with. Rizzoli finds herself worried for her mother, Angela and for her work partner Frost, both of whom are having relationship troubles. Angela, who reunited with her cheating estranged husband for the sake of the family, is experiencing severe depression. Having been treated well by another man during her separation from her husband, she finds herself far less capable of dealing with his nastiness this time around. Frost never got over his cheating wife and when she makes noises about wanting back in his life he shows himself more than willing to go there. Jane feels strongly that both relationships should be at an end –her parent’s marriage and Frost’s – but she’s having trouble convincing them of that.
Maura, meanwhile, remains in love with Daniel who can’t marry her because he is a Catholic priest. While she’s dealing with heartache over that, her murderous birth murder is sending her cryptic messages from the prison ICU, in an attempt to manipulate Maura for morbid reasons of her own.
Typically, I tear through a Rizzoli and Isles novel at a rabid pace but this book was an exception. One reason was that the mystery here is low key. Both characters seem so overwhelmed by the problems in their personal lives they were almost uninterested in the murders. Don’t get me wrong, they work the case but it’s very rote and the answers seemed to simply appear when they needed them. Most importantly, at the start of the story we are told that the movie the first victim was working on involved an event from her childhood. Rizzoli doesn’t even think to look at that film, although to me it was obvious that spending a couple of hours perusing it might easily point her in the right direction. I hate when I figure out in the first few chapters what it takes the detective more than half the story to find.
I also didn’t like the personal issues the women were dealing with. Each of these threads should have been snipped several books ago and having them drag into the present storyline was more than a little irritating. I’ll add that it’s also a depressing book; the family matters and nasty cause behind all the murders combine to turn the tale into a completely sad story. The cathartic nature of solving the crime wasn’t sufficient to lift us above the price paid for doing so.
Fortunately, the book has some strong points. Gerritsen is a good writer whose prose paints clear pictures of the events within the novel. While the story isn’t ripped from the headlines it is a timely, relevant and thoughtful tale. The author does a good job with continuity; I might feel that some points shouldn’t have continued as long as they have but I can say definitively that Gerritsen unerringly sticks to the trajectory on which she has placed her characters.
I also liked the underlying message regarding strong women. Even in this day and age there is plenty of push back when women leave their ‘assigned’ roles as caregivers and nurturers. Neither Maura nor Jane plays that role. They are caring, compassionate people but they are also powerful professionals who are still belittled for their sex in their personal lives and at work and face hurdles their male colleagues don’t. Within their families their role as second class citizens is emphasized. The primary victim in this tale is also a strong woman who pays the ultimate price for her unwillingness to be pushed around. Rather than a simple ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ message, this book says ‘You’ve got a long way to go. And nobody should call you baby.’
I Know a Secret is a solid addition to a long running series; I think Gerritsen’s legion of fans will be pleased with it, even if it isn’t the best book in the Rizzoli and Isles lexicon.