THE SILENT GIRL, by Tess Gerritsen, Ballatine, New York, 2011, hardcover, 336 pages, $26.
In her acknowledgements, the Camden author says of this latest Rizzoli & Isles thriller: “No novel I’ve written has been quite as personal as this one.”
Much of the plot in “The Silent Girl” centers around her mother’s mysterious tales of old China, which kept Gerritsen enthralled while growing up.
A grisly murder of an unidentified woman draws Jane Rizzoli and her partner, Barry Frost, into the insular world of Boston’s Chinatown. They soon find themselves re-examining a 19-year-old massacre of five people at the Red Phoenix restaurant. Along the way, they gain the aid of a gung-ho young Chinese detective, Johnny Tam.
These events bring them in contact with one of the novel’s other narrators: Iris Fang, a martial-arts instructor and widow whose husband was killed in the Red Phoenix massacre and whose daughter vanished two years prior to that. It soon becomes apparent that Iris knows more than she’s telling, both about the new murder and what happened at the Red Phoenix.
Soon there’s another unidentified body, as well as a murdered retired cop, and Rizzoli has a close call herself, leaving the tough detective and young mother shaken. Somebody doesn’t want the old Red Phoenix case investigated, and the bodies are piling up as a result.
The Jane Doe-John Doe murders seem to be the work of a creature out of Chinese mythology, which doesn’t set well with the pragmatic Rizzoli. She wants to find a more down-to-earth answer in the midst of superstitious Chinatown.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Maura Isles, who was at the center of Gerritsen’s 2010 novel “Ice Cold,” is sparingly used this time around. She testifies against a cop who beat and killed a murderer, which puts her on the wrong side of the thin blue line. In her personal life, she’s still missing her priest ex-boyfriend while clumsily trying to take on a maternal role with “Rat” Perkins, the teen boy who saved her in “Ice Cold.”
Rizzoli is dealing with personal stuff as well: How does being a policewoman threaten her being a mother? When is her FBI agent husband Gabriel being over-protective, or just concerned? What should she do about her mother and her ex-partner Vince, who have become very close?
The action races through Boston and its suburbs as Rizzoli and Frost try to tie together these murders, as well as the disappearance of several girls over a number of years, without the knowledge that Fang and her disciple, Bella Li, seem to possess.
“The Silent Girl” is Gerritsen at her finest, leading readers into foreign worlds as Rizzoli and Isles try to solve related murders. Too bad her books only come out once a year. (To tide over her fans, the TNT series “Rizzoli & Isles” returns Monday, July 11.)
Tess Gerritsen will hold a reading and book signing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 5, at the Owl & Turtle Bookstore, 32 Washington St., in Camden; and another at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 16, at Barnes & Noble, 9 Market Place Dr., Augusta.