5 stars out of 5
Being a fan of both a book series and a TV show that's based on that series isn't always easy - especially when both are well done. Even though I've enjoyed the books far longer than the TV series, it's nearly impossible, for instance, to read the books without envisioning Angie Harmon as Jane Rizzoli (a perfect casting, IMHO, which of course exacerbates the difficulty in maintaining separation). And even though FBI Special Agent Gabriel Dean, Jane's husband in the book series, doesn't make much of an appearance in this one (regrettably), a mere mention of his name brings back memories of the talented Billy Burke, who played Gabriel in the show.
The other confusing issue is that the books are, for want of a better descriptor, grittier than the show. That's perfectly understandable, of course, but when things get edgy - such as with the growing tension between Jane and her good friend, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles (played by Shasha Alexander on the show) - I found myself thinking as I read, "Ah well. In another few pages they'll be hugging each other as they dance around Jane's mother's kitchen table."
But that isn't to be here. And when it comes to whether that's for better or worse, I'll pick better; even though I enjoy the show, I much prefer the books. And this one, which seems a bit darker than some of the others, is a gem. The chapters move back and forth between events that took place during a South African safari a half-dozen years ago, when all but one of the tourists don't return home, and the present day as Jane and Maura are called to a crime scene. Well-known hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott has been murdered, gutted and strung up like an animal killed in the wild. As the investigation intensifies, possible links to similar murders turn up - leading to the suspicion that what happened on that ill-fated safari may be connected and a serial killer is out there.
Meanwhile, Maura is trying to cope with a conflicted relationship with her estranged mother, who is incarcerated and apparently now has a terminal illness and wants to see her daughter. And while Jane is no stranger to family dysfunction - her father, who left her mother for a bimbo half his age, now wants to come back home, much to Jane's chagrin - she has little sympathy for Maura's inability to shut the door to her past and move on.
That's an issue that doesn't get resolved here, nor does Jane's mother's resolve to take her husband back for the good of the family (sorry, no dancing around the kitchen table). But that leaves the door open for revisitation in the next book, and that part is fine with me. Bring it on!
Die Again: A Rizzoli & Isles Novel by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books, December 2014); 353 pp.