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I've read and reviewed a few Gerritsen novels now and I always enjoy them, even if they're not her best attempts. She just has a way of writing that I love, that is so easy to read and get drawn in to. The Silent Girl was no different; a maze of questions and detective work aplenty, this is a book I felt engrossed in from start to finish.
On the cover we're told that this is a 'New Rizzoli & Isles Bestseller', along with the tagline 'No one could hear her scream' to draw us in. For those who have read her novels before, these two characters will be very familiar. Whilst Isles does have a role in this book, it's to a lesser extent. Rizzoli, however, features heavily and provided me with some familiarity of a character I can now quite vividly imagine. That said, it doesn't matter if you haven't read anything by Gerritsen before as it's a stand-alone novel, providing key info you need on characters / relationships so that you don't feel like you're missing out on anything.
The book falls in to the crime thriller genre and this is apparent quite quickly. A severed hand turns up in Boston's Chinatown, in an alley near the Red Pheonix restaurant. Years earlier, a murder-suicide at the restaurant shook Chinatown to its core and the once loved eaterie has seen been left abandoned, with people fearful of the ghosts that remain there. It seems more bloodshed is to be found in this area as the owner of the hand is discovered, with her head almost severed off. Detective Jane Rizzoli is the lucky one who makes the find and is on the case, trying to figure out who the woman is, what kind of instrument could so cleanly slash through flesh and bone, and, of course, who the killer is.
But there's not much to go on, that is apart from two silver hairs found on the body. Enter pathologist Maura Isles, who analyses these strands to make a bizarre and somewhat unexplainable discovery. Meanwhile, Rizzoli looks in to ancient folktales and rumours about the restaurant as it starts to seem that perhaps the woman has a link to what happened there years before. Whilst five people died in the apparent murder-suicide, one woman is still alive; Iris Fang, a woman in her 50s who lost her husband in the massacre and that just so happens to be a master of martial arts with access to some deadly-looking swords, but seems too innocent and fragile to possibly be the killer. But could this woman know more than she's letting on? Rizzoli's partner, Detective Frost, starts to dig a little deeper.
I won't say any more on the premise but it's one wrapped up in mystery after mystery, with forensic detail, Chinatown folklore, old tales and cultural stories to further darken the already murky waters. Slowly, pieces start to come together and whilst you may think mid-way that you have an inclination of what's happening, Gerritsen never fails to throw a curve ball.
Gerritsen does two things really well that sets her apart from the rest of the crowd: Her ability to create vivid characters you can imagine and love to read about, wrapped up in a fluid writing style that keeps you hooked. And her technical ability to bring forensics and detective work to life. Firstly, the characters are warm and three dimensional, giving us a feel for who they are, their motivations and their relationships to each other. It makes reading about them more interesting and invested in to, as we want to know what happens to them, feeling empathy in parts for certain characters. Secondly, the terminology she uses shows knowledge without overloading or confusing us. Scenes are made to feel authentic and I usually feel like I learn something new after reading a Gerritsen novel, which can be about anything from DNA analysis of hair strands to Chinese folklore. You get the sense of the author knowing her stuff and this really helps to add credibility to the novel, as well as making it far more interesting to read.
There is less focus in The Silent Girl on backstories, such as how Rizzoli deals with family life and personal affairs, and more dominance given to the plot itself. That's not a bad thing, but I would have liked a bit more of this because it feels grounded and down to earth, giving me something to relate to and helps the reader to get a better feel for the characters. There also seems to be less Isles, though she still has an important. Having said that, character development is still evident in this book; whilst we see the familiar, much loved characters we're also introduced to some new ones that are quickly and clearly developed throughout.
I loved the Chinese mythology aspect to this because it really gave the novel its own original, unique 'flavour'. As I've mentioned, it also introduced me to new things and I felt like I was learning whilst reading, so I found it to be a really interesting backbone to the premise. Interest was maintained by a good balance between development, characters, sideline stories, forensics and action. The pace just keep the book rolling so I didn't feel it dragged at any point, nor did I feel dragged along and out of breath trying to keep up! It was easy to read and kept me engaged throughout, so turning each page was a breeze.
On the back is further praise, including 'Crime-writing at its nerve-tingling best' - Harlan Coben (an author I love so if he thinks it's good then that's good enough for me!), 'Hair-raising, nail-biting stuff' - Guardian and 'Gruesome, seductive and creepily credible' - The Times. I would agree with these comments; it's definitely good crime writing, giving you a mystery within a mystery to get your teeth in to. There's suspense and action, and it keeps you guessing until the end, as well as simply wanting to know what happens to the characters you come to identify with.
Overall, I would recommend this for fans of Gerritsen or crime thrillers. It has its own original take on a murder mystery, great characters and is fluid to read, keeping you gripped until the end.
315 pages over 39 chapters (hardback), released 2012
Selling for £5.59 on Amazon (paperback)