Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tess Gerritsen: The Sinner

In general, this blog has a marked preference for commercial fiction as compared with the highbrow literary variety. Occasionally, however, as I have had cause to remark before, commercial fiction can be too commercial for its own good. So it is, at least in my opinion, with Tess Gerriten's The Sinner.

Tess Gerritsen is an American, living in Maine. She was once a successful medic (a nice vague term, but that's what the book says), and she gave up her practice to raise children and concentrate on her writing. She has written six previous novels, all of them being New York Times bestsellers.

The Sinner comes with warm endorsements from Mo Hayder ('absolutely riveting') and Stephen King ('you're going to be up all night'). The latter seems to be unusually generous in offering plugs to other writers, but why not.

The Sinner, written by a woman, seems to me to be aimed firmly at women readers. There are two lead characters, both female. Maura Isles is what in England is called a pathologist; she examines dead bodies. Jane Rizzoli is a cop. Both women have complicated love/sex lives which are dealt with at some length.

The plot involves the murder of nuns in a convent, where 'unspeakable carnage' is discovered. And we go on from there.

All the familiar elements of a bestseller are present. Violent death. Religion. Big business up to no good. Strong female characters. And whodunit?

Personally I thought the medical examiner was decidedly slow to diagnose leprosy, but then I don't suppose leprosy is very common in the US. More to the point, perhaps, I found the whole book a little too contrived and mechanical for my taste.

I have no objection to people bolting together the necessary elements for a bestseller, and making some money out of it -- no objection at all. And this book will no doubt serve very well for those who read one book a month; or perhaps even one a year. But I prefer novels which are a little more quirky and individual; even if they do sell less well.


Gav's Studio said...

I must admit that I've read this book, I like an easy read everyone once in a while, I'm sure that everyone does.

The thing I found was that it the characters were instantly forgettable, as were their problems. I have no urge to read the next book unlike the next Patricia Cornwell, which does at least have engaging characters.

Jenny D said...

Yes, I've read all of Gerritsen's, and share your reservations. (It's the kind of book I check out of the public library & read with disappointment but not enough dislike not to read the next one a year later.) She's got no gift for characterization or voice, I think; unfortunately, those are the two things that make a thriller gripping rather than humdrum. I like good thrillers and crime fiction and science fiction etc. very much indeed (more, really, than anything but the very best 'literary' fiction) but I find myself increasingly impatient with this kind of book--the US legal thriller is another regular offender, only a handful of people write them well (Scott Turow is unparalleled, for instance, but the general mass are undistinguished to say the least). The litblogs have steered me to some really first-rate thrillers this year--I'm thinking of writers like Peter Temple and Kevin Wignall--and in contrast to that quality of writing, I am finding it less and less possible even to finish a weak one.