The Surgeon, Tess Gerritsen


I am really enjoying this adventure of reading a fantasy series that I absolutely love, and then experimenting with different genres and authors in between each part of the series. My adventure today took me into the world of physician Tess Gerritsen, and the introduction to her detective, Jane Rizzoli. I think that I actually prefer mystery novels to crime, where the perpetrator is under your nose all along and you have a relationship with them from the start. Tess Gerritsen writes crime, where the perpetrator is introduced to the story only a few chapters from the conclusion. The element of mystery stems from the questions surrounding the identity of the suspect, and where he comes from, but it isn’t quite the same as having to pick out the criminal from a line up that you’ve got to know throughout the novel.

Why do I do this to myself?!

I’m not really sure what it is about crime novels and female sexual abuse. I don’t know whether, as society, we have become so desensitized to ‘normal rape’ (I don’t know what else to call it, there is nothing normal about rape) that it doesn’t seem like enough of a crime anymore, that we have to add to it and make it ‘worse’, as if it wasn’t bad enough already. I often wonder whether this comes from a male-dominated genre, but Tess Gerritsen seems to be proving me wrong. So yes, I found this novel quite upsetting, and I don’t know why I do it to myself really.

The Premise

Rizzoli is a female in a man’s world, with a bit of a chip on her shoulder from being the youngest of 3 children, with 2 older brothers who dominate their parents’ favour. As a policewoman, Rizzoli has something to prove.

She and an old police veteran, Thomas Moore, are on the hunt for a serial killer. The seemingly first victim, a year earlier, was tied down and, whilst alive, had her womb surgically removed, before having her throat slit. More victims appear, some showing signs of rape. And the centre of it all is Doctor Catherine Cordell, who shot dead a man who raped her and was responsible for identical crimes 2 years ago in a different State. She is being hunted by what seems to be a copy cat, and Catherine is his ultimate goal.

The Perpetrator

It took me a while to work out that there were 2 people involved in the original killings, but I got there far before the police did. The secrets weren’t well hidden. It took them far too long to work out that all 3 women had been raped not too long prior to their murder, and NOT by the murderer. I had this figured because it was Andrew who was responsible for the rape of previous victims and if their had been an accomplice, his passion lay in the desecration of the womb and the murder of the victim. He was clearly not able ‘perform’ in the traditional sense, only really being aroused by the concept of the incisions.

The problems

I have a few problems.

Firstly, Professor Khan would most definitely have reported Hoyt’s actions. To desecrate the corpse in such a personal way, would not only see him removed from the course but barred from future medical practice. There is no way he should have been able to leave the college without a stain on his record. I think it highlights the attitude differences between men and women. A man damages a female cadaver, masturbates while he does it and gets a light tap on the wrists. There is no respect for the dead, the damage done and the mental impairment that Hoyt shows by being sexually aroused by such an experience. There is no consequence, other than removal from medical school, and this is an unacceptable indictment on society.

Secondly, I don’t particularly warm to Rizzoli. Her ‘woe is me’ little girl run, the younger sister trying to find verification in a man’s world whose chip on her shoulder probably just prevents her from going further. Believe me, I am all for gender equality and sexual harassment and gender bias are unacceptable.But Gerritsen plays on this too much, leading to a cold blooded shooting which is swept under the carpet because Rizzoli rescues Catherine in the final mile. I question the working of the police, both their enrollment – Rizzoli clearly has some issues that need to be worked through – and their ethics. I don’t think this is necessarily an accurate or flattering portrayal of police work.

The Surgeon is not a timeless piece of writing. The reliance on now dated technology, obviously valued and well used 16 years ago, is very telling, and almost uncomfortable to read now.  I know this is no fault of the author’s, but novels are dating much faster now that we have far more access to far more technology. I would be interested to read later novels to see how Gerritsen makes the progression into the new, technologically based world.

The benefits

Gerritsen is a physician and her A&E and surgical knowledge are matched by very few. She reminds me of Eileen Dreyer, a trauma nurse come author, whose knowledge of nursing brings real life to her crime novels. Although sometimes a bit too graphic, Gerritsen brings life to the doctors and the hospital that an outside could not.

Again, this worries me a bit. Will every novel be based in a hospital? Will her simplistic writing style hold up in a less familiar environment? Will she end up just rehashing this story?

That said, Gerritsen writes her characters very well. Despite my problems with Rizzoli, Moore was a very well developed and likeable character. The stock characters around the two key detectives – a sexist, pushy detective, a quiet, likeable detective – were 2D and clearly just there for appearances. Dr Catherine was well developed and her PTSD was well explored, if a little undermining of what the true disorder can feel like. The criminals, Andrew and Hoyt, were scary and mentally unwell, but you could see their progression from simple acts to the worst murders.


Overall, it was passable. Character development was poor, but well written. The writing style was simplistic and the conclusion a little too obvious. There were a lot of issues with key characters, key plot moments and, of course, the attitude towards rape.

This is my main issue with the book, and the genre, as a whole. Do we not consider rape on its own to be a bad enough crime? Thousands of woman are raped every year. They are not then mutilated and murdered. But the horror that they live with is very real. We have got to stop undermining the crime because it’s so common. It’s no wonder that in the media there are so many young people getting away with light sentences and positive media attention for their actions (my mind slips to the American swimmer who sexually assaulted a girl and didn’t get jail time because that one minute of mistake might ruin is career’. The attitude is unacceptable and needs to be addressed. How can we be so accepting of such a damaging and personally traumatising act?

Gerritsen has potential. The characters have potential. I’m just not sure that any of it will be reached.


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