Tess Gerritsen, ‘The Sinner’

I hadn’t realised quite how many books there were about female pathologists/medical examiners/forensic anthropologists/coroners. I’m familiar with Kay Scarpetta and Temperance Brennan (and much prefer the latter), and I’ve briefly met Sara Linton. Now I’ve encountered Tess Gerritsen’s ‘Queen of the Dead’ Maura Isles. I’m sure there’s an element of bandwagon-jumping in all this, but I wonder if there are other reasons. If your central character is someone whose role deals with the victims of murder, then it allows you as a writer to put those victims forward as characters in the plot, even if they never appear as living people. That then helps to bring out the horror and tragedy of the crime. But you have to make them more than bodies on a slab, and for that you need your pathologist to be someone who does the job because they care about those victims, someone who can combine the detachment necessary for the scientific aspects of the job with empathy and the ability to use the evidence to build up an image of the victim as a person. And we’re still in a world where if you want caring and empathy your first thought is a woman.

One feature of the crime novel featuring female pathologists which I’m less keen on is a frequently-used way of revealing the killer. This is the scenario where, usually unbeknownst to her, the killer has identified the heroine as a threat because of what she may know, and therefore turns up at her house or office to eliminate her. She escapes through a mixture of pluck, initiative and being rescued by her detective friends, who turn up in the nick of time due to having found that last vital Clue. I don’t mind this now and again, particularly if there’s a nice suspenseful build-up, but in ‘The Sinner’ it seemed a bit abrupt, as if the author had chosen that way of polishing off the actual murder mystery part of the plot because she’d actually been more interested in the different character sub-plots. Though to be fair, I was finishing it off last thing at night so I might have missed some signposting.

Generally, though, a nice brisk read, plenty of interest, some evocative description, too much presentation of the female characters in terms of the men in their lives.

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