Other than Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series, I detour around books with recurring characters. There are simply too many books and too little time to get tied down with one character. This was my story until I was introduced to Chelsea Cain’s serial killer Gretchen Lowell.

If you’re a Hannibal fan brace yourself. Gretchen has taken Lecter’s game to a new level. She’s so deliciously evil I wish I’d thought her up. But her evil ways are only a small part of why I’m hooked. The brilliance of the series is how Cain has interconnected the killer with the protagonist. The love/hate rollercoaster between our hero, Archie and Gretchen is twisted and complex. In addition to destroying his marriage and the bond with his children, their relationship is literally ripping him apart emotionally and physically. But Archie refuses to let go and Gretchen continues to risk her freedom to be near him.

The why behind each character’s actions is not yet clear and after book two, Sweetheart, the reader still knows nothing of Gretchen’s history. This is another strength for Cain—no info dumps. She doles out information like a peanut M & M junkie, who only eats one M & M every twenty minutes. The tension between the protagonist and the killer coupled with the increasing unknown makes this series a must read.

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THE SURGEON by Tess Gerritsen

Mark this book as a First. The Surgeon is Tess Gerritsen’s first crime thriller, the debut for recurring character Detective Jane Rizzoli and my first experience with this author. The verdict:

Gerritsen has found another fan.

Her writing is without waste. Descriptions are vivid. Details flesh out character, or underscore the urgency of the situation. Another bonus is Gerritsen’s background as a physician. Her ability to translate complex medical procedures to the page with simple clarity is not only a joy for the reader, but also provides us with the knowledge necessary to deepen our empathy for the characters.

I chose The Surgeon as my first Gerritsen’s read because it was Rizzoli’s debut, so I was surprised to discover she was a secondary character. Rizzoli’s partner Detective Thomas Moore is the man that captures the reader’s heart. In fact, this reader was rooting so much for Moore, Rizzoli became a thorn in my side and I ended up disliking her as much as the other characters in the book. I couldn’t fathom how this character earned a strong enough following for the popular Rizzoli and Isles series. Then in the midst of the murder investigation Rizzoli’s inner turmoil was flushed out, and by the end of the book I couldn’t stop wondering what the future holds for this heroine. Applause for Gerritsen.

My only reservation with The Surgeon has to do with the antagonist. We become acquainted with the Surgeon through long monologues, which often explore behaviors of people from ancient lands, i.e. the Greeks, Vikings and Aztecs. Although this material revealed much about the Surgeon’s frame of mind these chapters often pulled me out of the story. Fortunately, Gerritsen’s follow through made the Surgeon real for me in the end, but oh, how I wish I had a stronger connection with him early on.

The Rizzoli and Isles series may never find their way into my TBR pile, but Gerritsen is definitely an author I will revisit.

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BODILY HARM by Robert Dugoni

I will probably never write a thriller, but if I did I would love to write with Dugoni’s page-turning excellence. He never disappoints. No info dumps or backstory on his pages. The details of each moment are essential and the emotional landscapes of the characters are rich.

Because he trust his readers to connect the dots, Bodily Harm doesn’t just move, it leaps from one pivotal moment to the next. Tension remains high. His subplots are written with a delicate hand. They bring depth to the character without bogging down the story-something all wannabe writers need to master. Looking for a thriller?

Chose and learn from Dugoni.

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