Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Series, On Rizzoli/Isles, On Fangirl-dom

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+

17 comments:

Victoria Janssen said...

Hasn't this series been adapted for tv?

RRRJessica said...

I heard Gerritsen give a talk on Maine public radio a week or two ago and I was riveted. Now your review has pushed me over the edge: I've got to start reading her.

Wendy said...

Victoria: Yeah, it premieres Monday on TNT. I'm going to watch it, but I have to reprogram my brain to accept the casting choices made my Hollywood first :)

Jessica: Gerritsen does a good job of making her books stand-alone - but yeah, read in order. They're just flat-out better that way. The Surgeon is book one. My personal faves in the series are books 3 (The Sinner) and 4 (Body Double).

AbbyThompson said...

I read the first two and was so appalled at the violence perpetuated against women that I've been hesitant to read any further. Then I get online and the peer pressure (Oh! The peer pressure!) gets me thinking I should try again.

Do the books get any "better"?

SonomaLass said...

I had the same problem as AbbyThompson - the one book I tried was just too violent for my taste at the time. Mileage varies so much on that, I know, and my tolerance level has gone down in the past couple of years.

On the series question, Wendy, have you read Elizabeth George? I know quite a few people who quit reading her books because of what she did to her main characters. She had awful things happen that changed one in particular; your blowing up the house analogy reminded me of that.

Lil Sis said...

So when am I getting it? :)

Wendy said...

Abby & SonomaLass: Well...in that case - probably not for you. Because the violence level in this series has stayed fairly consistent from book to book. Certainly nowhere near the most violent mystery/suspense series I read (hello, Chelsea Cain), but certainly fairly graphic.

SonomaLass: Have not read George, but I know EXACTLY of what you speak since I have several coworkers who read her. Yeah, they were unthrilled.

Wendy said...

Lil' Sis: Saturday morning? Will call you....

Big Sis said...

DANG! I forgot to put it on hold at KPL....well tell Lil Sis to send it pony express when she finishes. But I just started King's latest Under The Dome which is just a titch over 1,000 pages so I'll be busy for a few weeks with that one. (I'm also reading Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone to the kids every night.)

PS off topic...the word verification to post this is "sessema". Sounds like a kind of pot dontcha think?

Wendy said...

Big Sis: If KPL's wait list is anything like ours, you'll get my copy sooner. And yeah, that was the plan. Lil' Sis, then you.

Heee - and I'm sure there is quite a bit of "sessema" growing in CA's national parks as I type this....

Cathy in AK said...

Oh, I need to get this one! Gerritsen really is a master of balancing character and plot. A bit violent, yes, but never gratuitous.

As for the TV show....I dunno....The casting seems off to me. I might be able to give Angie Harmon a pass as Rizzoli (tho I always thought Jane was a bit shorter, and less stunning), but from the promos Isles (Sasha Alexander) seems downright social and personable. She always came across as standoffish in the books. Plus, I think her hair is wrong : )

I'll still give it a shot, cuz it's Gerritsen.

Wendy said...

Cathy: Yeah, the casting is VERY Hollywood. What I'm hoping is that "they" didn't tinker too much with the "attitudes" and "feel" of the characters. From the promos I've seen, I think Harmon will nail it, but I'm wondering how much tinkering they did with the Isles character? She just seems so....girly in the promos I've seen. And that character has never sent off a strong "girly" vibe in my mind.

I'm going to try my best to treat the TV show and the books as completely separate entities that stand on their own. But dang, it's gonna be HARD since I like the books so much :)

Cathy in AK said...

She just seems so....girly in the promos I've seen. And that character has never sent off a strong "girly" vibe in my mind.

Right! Isles is feminine, or at least distinctly female, but not girly. I tell you, it's the hair. Too bouncey/curly.

Separate the entities. Good idea.

Ann Bruce said...

Ah, cripes. I'm trying to get back on the romance wagon, but now you've sidetracked me. I'm a sucker for a good mystery. Eight books...that's two or three weeks of reading...

BTW, are these mainly procedurals?

Wendy said...

Ann: One character is a Boston homicide detective, the other is a medical examiner. So yes, there is some "procedural" stuff in there - but I wouldn't classify them as "police procedurals" in the strictest sense. More like suspense/thrillers with some cop/medical stuff added to the mix.

If that makes any sense at all?

My brain is so mush right now. Too many meetings at the office today.....

sybil said...

oops I won't tell u how long I had this....

Did I know you wanted it?

Wendy said...

Sybil: ACK! You HAD this one?!?!?! Oh well. Now you know that I read Gerritsen :)