I finished Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen over the weekend, and instead of contemplating an "official" review, I've found myself ruminating on the subject of series. Why I'm quick to jump on a mystery/suspense series bandwagon while 95% of all romance series either don't appeal, or leave me only marginally interested. Oh sure, I do read romance series. A few. But I'm not reading them because they are series books. No, I'm generally reading them because 1) I like the author or 2) it's a sub genre (ex: westerns) I want to support. I don't get that big anticipation rush with romance series like I do mystery/suspense. Just don't. Case in point? This new book by Gerritsen, which had me taking note of the release date, and plotting how, when and where I was going to buy my copy (in print, on my lunch break at work, at Costco).
Seriously, I had a plan of attack.
I don't do this with romance series. Just don't. The reason for this? The confines of the romance genre do not allow authors to follow the same protagonist(s) over the course of several books. That tends to shoot the happily-ever-after in the foot, which is what the genre hinges on (and FYI, I don't consider J.D. Robb romance). The only requirement of a mystery/suspense novel is to give me some resolution to the crime at hand. Where the characters are at? Yeah, the authors can play around all they want....well, within reason. Which brings me to what struck me most about Ice Cold.
As a suspense novel, it's very good. Oh sure, I have a few nit-picks, but it delivers as far as a page-turner, and the ending was tre' magnifique! But it was the series aspect that struck me the most. That now, with this eighth book following the same characters, Gerritsen has done what a lot of her contemporaries struggle with. She has allowed her characters to change and grow, while not straying from their foundations, all while keeping me interested in their fictional lives.
Writing about the same characters over and over is harder than it sounds. There are two common pitfalls. 1) The characters don't change or grow at all and the reader gets bored reading the same book over and over again (see: Stephanie Plum) or 2) The author gets bored, starts tinkering too much, and the characters morph into pod people (see: Kay Scarpetta). Gerritsen has struck a very nice balance with the first eight books in her Rizzoli/Isles series. "Stuff happens" to her characters, their lives change, but peel back the layers and they're still inherently the same people they were in book one. Jane Rizzoli's life in book eight is light years away from her life in book one, but she's still Jane. Deep down, under the layers, she's still who she is.
To put it another way, I like it when authors remodel the kitchen, or maybe put in a swimming pool. What I tend to hate is when the author packs the house with plastic explosives, pours several gallons of gasoline on the living room carpet and lights a match. Adding new dimensions to characters is good. Totally rewriting history? Yeah, that sucks. Major.
I also find it really interesting that while Gerritsen probably gets a fair amount of crap from her suspense-only fans about her romance writing past (icky, love cooties!), I think her romance writing past is the reason why her suspense novels are so good, and popular. Certainly characters are important in mystery/suspense. I wouldn't be so stupid to suggest otherwise. But compared to the romance genre? Oh man. If you can't write good, interesting, "real" characters in romance, you're sunk. Because without the reader believing in the characters? Yeah, how exactly is the author going to deliver on the happily-ever-after? In mystery/suspense, even if the characters are so-so, the author can still salvage the proceedings somewhat by giving the reader a crackin' good mystery. In romance, lackluster characterization = dead on arrival. Good luck with that.
Was Ice Cold my favorite in this series to date? No. The Sinner and Body Double are still tops in my mind. But it was still very, very good. An extremely strong entry that delivers on suspense, manages to wrap up some character baggage and add another layer to the onion. I loved where this book started (and ended), and I can't wait to see where the author leads her characters next.
And now....I wait. ::tap, tap, tap::
Final Grade = B+