Last To Die, by Tess Gerritsen

>> Sunday, February 08, 2015

TITLE: Last To Die
AUTHOR: Tess Gerritsen

PAGES: 512
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 10th in the Rizzoli / Isles series

For the second time in his short life, fourteen-year-old Teddy Clock has survived a massacre. Orphaned once more when his foster family is murdered, the traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn—until the Boston PD puts Detective Jane Rizzoli on the case. Jane spirits Teddy to the exclusive Evensong boarding school, a sanctuary where young victims of violent crime learn vital skills of survival. But even behind locked gates, Jane fears that Evensong’s benefactors aren’t the only ones watching. And when she learns of two other students whose pasts bear a shocking resemblance to Teddy’s, it becomes chillingly clear that a circling predator has more than one victim in mind. Joining forces with medical examiner Maura Isles, Jane races to stop an obsessed killer’s twisted quest—before an unspeakable secret dooms the children’s fate.

It's become a bit of a tradition for me to listen to the next-to-latest Tess Gerritsen while I'm on holiday in Uruguay (not the latest because what if there's a cliff-hanger on the personal stuff and I need to know straight away what happens next?). It's a bit strange to read her dark, often gory books while on my morning walks by the beach, but it works for me.

In Last to Die, Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are called to a really bad crime scene. A couple and all but one of their foster children have been killed, almost execution style. The sole survivor is a little boy called Teddy Clock, and Jane is shocked to discover this is not the first time the same thing has happened to him. Only a few years earlier his parents and siblings were all killed as well, leaving only Teddy alive. And when someone tries to break into the foster home the police have placed Teddy, Jane decides she needs to stash Teddy somewhere really safe and really secret.

And what do you know, one such place falls right into her lap. Readers of this series will remember Julian, the teenager Maura befriended during her adventure in Ice Cold. Well, he's been placed at a boarding school called Evensong, run by Anthony Sansone and staffed by people who are members of his Mephisto Society (yeah, there is quite a lot of history between all these characters by now. You'd have to read The Mephisto Club to fully understand, but basically, these are people who believe evil is real and are determined to fight against it). Anyway, Maura has gone to visit Julian there and she discovers a couple of kids there have had the same experience as Teddy: families exterminated, with them being the sole survivors, and then the same thing happening again with the people they go to live with next. Evensong is a secure location (if there's something that can be said about the Mephisto Society is that they are paranoid about security) and it makes sense to keep these 3 kids where they can keep an eye on all of them, so Jane takes Teddy there. And then strange things start happening, from bloody dolls hanging from a tree to mysterious deaths.

Oh, I'm so conflicted about this one! I was fully engaged and interested in all that was going on and I had to force myself to not just wander round the house with my headphones on (I was staying at my parents' and they wouldn't have appreciated that). The setup was really interesting and well done, and I thought both the premise and the development were good. I also really cared about the personal, non case-related stuff going on. But on the other hand, I had Quibbles. Lots and lots of them.

The dénouement was the main thing that I had quibbles with. On one hand, it really surprised me, and yet it made sense, psychologically. I love it when that happens. On the other, there were some threads left hanging. Some of the creepy things that happened (a particular suicide that wasn’t really a suicide, creepy figures hanging from trees outside Evensong school) didn’t make any sense, given the resolution and who ended up being responsible. No sense at all. They weren’t necessary to what this person was trying to do, and they seem to suggest a sort of person this person is not, according to the narrative (how's that for cryptic?). These things were great at the moment they happened, really gave the book an eery, scary feeling, but the lack of sense at the end made me feel those scares weren’t earned at all.

Also, I felt I was being asked to root for and be sympathetic towards a character I thought was morally horrible. This will be very spoilerish, so read on only if you don’t plan to read this book or if you've already read it:

Basically, the reason for the family massacres was that one of the parents in each family was a CIA agent, and another agent wanted to silence them. All had been involved in a particular episode in which the murderous agent had been bought off and the others had figured this out. But one of the three agents survived, and he shows up at the end. And we’re supposed to think it a happy ending when he survives with his kid and goes off into the sunset. I really, really didn’t. This is a person who was involved in kidnapping foreign nationals (which caused the death of innocent bystanders), extraordinary rendition and torture (sorry, “enhanced interrogations”). And I’m supposed to feel positive about him, just because the people whose lives and human rights he had no regard for weren’t Americans? Fuck that.

In addition to the case, we get some development in the soap opera of Jane Rizzoli’s parents. Previously in this series, sexist lout Frank Rizzoli left his wife for a younger woman (a bimbo, Angie calls her). Angie was devastated, but after a while fell in love with Jane’s former partner, Vince Korsak, who cherishes her and treats her so much better than Frank. As this book starts, they’re planning their wedding, as soon as Angie and Frank’s divorce goes through. Well, now Frank’s girlfriend has left him, and he realises he screwed up. He wants his wife back, with things exactly as they were before. And he and his equally loutish son, Frankie Jr., want Jane to pressure her mother into going along with this. They’re FAMILY, you see, and "that means something”. Oh, this section made me sooooooo angry. We don’t have a resolution here, and I really hope Gerritsen makes Angie stand firm against all the revolting patriarchal pressures that are pushing her towards going back to an entitled prick who treats her like shit. I will absolutely stop reading this series if she goes back to him. My problem in this book was Jane. I hated her for even contemplating agreeing to her father’s and brother’s demands, for thinking she doesn’t know what to do, and that their arguments have any value at all. She is married to a man who loves her and respects her and treats her well. She knows that wasn’t how Frank treated Angie, and she knows very well that nothing will change if he gets his way. He himself admits that what he wants back is the unpaid maid who cooks him good food and waits on him hand and food. Ohhh, I hated him so much, more than the killer, even. I wanted him to end up castrated with a rusty spoon. Maybe the plot of the next book? (I can only hope!)

Finally, this is quite minor, in the grand scheme of things, but it's an issue that has been bothering me later. Now, Evensong school is amazing. It sounds just like Hogwards, and I want to go there. But there was one thing that didn't make sense to me, and that was that Gerritsen seemed to feel she had to include “mean girls” and bullies. This is a school where the teachers (and there are a lot of them) pay a lot of attention to what’s going on and it’s suggested they’re perfectly aware of this. Every single kid has therapy sessions every week. Why is this allowed to go on? I don’t know, this is something that bothers me when I read books set in US high schools. It’s kind of suggested bullies are an essential part of the school experience. They are there in every single school, and teachers NEVER do anything about it. Is this what it's like, really? I can understand nothing happening when you’ve got a school with underpaid, overwhelmed teachers, but in a school like Evensong?

MY GRADE: Contrary to what it might seem with all my ranting, I did, on the whole, enjoy this. A B-.


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