The Magazine for Crime & Mystery



Val McDermid Interview

Nevada Barr on writing HUNTING SEASON plus an excerpt

Paul Doherty's short story THE KYRIE MAN

Stark Contrasts Michael Carlson examines the pulp fiction of Richard Stark

Have you got what it takes to be a Writer? by Fiona Shoop

It Could Only Happen in Hollywood

The Surgeon

Tess Gerritsen

The DoNot Press £6.99

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Reviewed by Heather O'Donoghue

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Tess Gerritsen's The Surgeon has all the right ingredients for a full-on horror crime novel. The Surgeon of the title is the nickname given by the Boston Police Department to an unknown serial woman killer because of the evident anatomical and surgical skills he demonstrates on his victims. I'll spare you the horrible details, but Tess Gerritsen doesn't. The central horror is a familiar one from this kind of literature: the Surgeon immobilises his prey, and then keeps each woman alive for hours and hours before finally despatching her. The narrative is interspersed by his musings on human sacrifice through human history - the Greeks, the Aztecs, the vikings - and the way he contextualizes himself within this long tradition is seriously disturbing.
The twist is a variation on a familiar theme: the apparrent resurrection of a dead killer. A trawl through police databases reveals that these latest vile killings have been carried out in precisely the same way as an earlier series outside Boston, but there is no question of the same man being responsible, because Andrew Capra, a surgery intern in Savannah, Georgia, was shot dead by his last victim, Dr. Catherine Cordell, before he managed to kill her. And yet there clearly is a link, because Cordell has moved to Boston, and it soon becomes evident that the Surgeon is offering up his victims to Catherine Cordell herself.
Cordell is a heroine who lets Gerritsen have it both ways: she's both a feminist icon, tough, independent, beautiful and professional, and an archetypal victim, traumatized by her previous encounter with Capra, and terrified by this new reflux of violent sadism apparently produced for her benefit. The men in the novel fall over themselves to defend her, to the wry resentment of Officer Jane Rizzoli, the only woman in Homicide, who has long realised that the only way to be regarded as the equal of the men around her is to be a lot better at her job than they are. The tensions and rivalries within the police department are well drawn, and the dialogue is snappy but also thoughtful and sympathetic. The scenes in Cordell's hospital are also very gripping, with lots of authentic-sounding medical jargon. All in all, The Surgeon is a highly accomplished thriller: everything you'd hope to find is there, but without either cliché or predictability.

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