North Shore Book Notes: Rizzoli & Isles’ latest mystery

Rae Padilla Francoeur

"Last to Die: Rizzoli & Isles" By Tess Gerritsen. Ballantine, New York, 2012. 352 pages. $27.

Boston Police Department Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Maura Isles are barely on speaking terms when Tess Gerritsen’s 11th detective novel in the series, “Last to Die,” begins.

But the two women are called to investigate a suspicious Beacon Hill house fire in which three children and their foster parents are killed. A fourth child, 14-year-old Teddy Clock, survives. On Maura’s recommendation, Jane whisks him off to Evensong, a special school in remote Maine populated with kids who’ve lived through horrific events. Maura’s young friend Julian also lives and goes to school there.

Teddy is one of a small group of children at Evensong whose parents and caretakers have been killed. Is there a connection? How is it that these traumatized kids all wound up at Evensong? The mysteries mount. As “Last to Die” progresses, it starts to look as if all these bereaved children are in mortal danger.

Gerritsen’s book, set in Boston, New Hampshire and Maine, is a real page-turner, full of suspense and mystery. She deserves her high ranking as a detective novelist. The plot is creative and clever and keeps you guessing. The suspense is real — a rare treat. And Gerritsen’s cast of characters is quite well differentiated. Her kids sound like kids and each one has a distinct personality. As for Rizzoli and Isles, they get quite snippy with each other before they begin to address their personal issues with each other.

Evensong, the castle/school in Maine where the kids live, is a great character as well. It’s fortified and ostensibly secure. The kids feel safe at Evensong. And their unique characters and struggles are supported, not derided. They prosper as they never have before. The school is quirky -- populated with eccentric teachers, a groundskeeper who’s an ace archer and a psychologist with a harrowing past. Once the mysteries are defined, suspects seem to be everywhere. Says one retired detective who investigated the deaths of one boy’s parents, “Just keep digging and things will start squirming out of the mud.” He had to watch his back throughout his investigation.

And then there’s Icarus, a mysterious figure that Gerritsen introduces at the start of the book. He’s clearly evil incarnate, he’s lethal and he’s being hunted by a mystery narrator. What does Icarus have to do with the fate of these children, if anything? And why has the CIA become involved? Gerritsen also brings in NASA and the possibility of alien life on inhabitable meteors. She covers strange and interesting terrain, and still manages to keep us oriented.

As for Rizzoli and Isles themselves, I don’t see their likeness mirrored 100 percent in the TV show’s characters, though I’m not a regular viewer. But a TV show about two opinionated, competent, professional women working for the Boston Police Department certainly has appeal. Gerritsen, a physician and a resident of Maine, continues to provide the scriptwriters with plenty of good stuff to work with.

Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at Or read her blog at or follow her @RaeAF.