- - Thursday, March 5, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

DIE AGAIN

By Tess Gerritsen

Ballantine, $27, 352 pages

The terror of a massacre on safari in Botswana is linked to the gruesome killing of a Boston taxidermist in “Die Again,” a fast-paced thriller.

Author Tess Gerritsen’s formidable investigative team of Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles — one a detective, the other a medical examiner — gallop to the rescue in a scene of mayhem that is not short on gore. However, she fashions a plot that is informative as well as brutal, dealing factually with the plight of magnificent wild animals fated to wind up with their heads nailed to somebody’s wall. This is a gripping and violent tale of the wild where predators and prey are on the move and unnecessary killings abound.

In this case the situation is made more dire by the fact that for years a psychopath has been operating from America to Africa and even in community zoos where people prove to be as endangered as the animals.

Ms. Gerritsen captures her readers with alternating chapters about a six-year-old case in Botswana where several tourists die horrifying deaths one by one, leaving a sole haunted young woman who finds her way out of the nightmare of the jungle, yet remains unable to escape the horror that she still fears. The author’s description of what can go wrong on a safari is riveting, especially given her emphasis on the need for tourists to listen to the advice of their tour guide, in this case, one Johnny Posthumus, who has to struggle with stubborn ignorance and occasional idiocy on a daily basis as he tries to keep his charges alive and healthy. The fact that he fails and loses his own life as well is not attributable to his incompetence but to the presence of a psychopath in the group. Discovering who that is and keeping him at bay keeps the reader’s attention. And there is a mesmerizing portrayal of how Millie Jacobson, the only survivor of the deadly safari, staggers her way through the jungle, sleeping in trees and following a river that eventually leads her to a lodge.

The Boston setting of the book gets off to an equally dramatic start when detectives Rizzoli and Isles — now featured in a television series of the same name (“Rizzoli & Isles”) — are called to a crime scene noticed by a mailman who sees a dog with a human finger in its mouth at the window of an apparently empty house. Inside is a ghastly scene accentuated by “the stench of death.” Hanging from the ceiling is a nude man, tied with orange tape, and disemboweled. He is Leon Gott, a well-known taxidermist who has come into possession of the pelt of a rare snow leopard.

What becomes known as the snow leopard case proves to involve hideous killings in various states. Poor Millie Jacobsen, now trying to escape the memories of her ordeal in a happy marriage to a South African, is persuaded to return to America to assist in the hunt for a killer who can also identify her. She has another narrow escape as she tracks down the murderer to his lair.

Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are subtly drawn characters, working together despite their different personalities. Working in different fields of law enforcement they differ in their views on how to handle a case, but invariably they work out the kind of complex problems that can take them around the world chasing a killer. In this case, the murders are gruesome and so is their perpetrator, and the combination of a deadly safari and domestic horrors gives Ms. Gerritsen the opportunity she clearly relishes to remind the reader of how gory the work is, and what is required of those who take up the challenge.

The author emphasizes the importance of clashing characters, and personal problems are explored as Rizzoli and Isles delve deeper into the bloody depths of the mystery they are trying to solve. Solving murders makes it difficult for the young sleuths to have a family life, and this is underscored here more than in most thrillers. Cops are human, doing work that most people would rather read about than investigate, and the author notes the additional difficulties created by the personalities of the police investigators who grow more interesting and less hard-boiled. The acknowledgment of their personal problems takes them beyond the realm of one more hunt for a killer.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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