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15th September
2011
written by Steph

As book bloggers, we spend a lot of time talking about all the wonderful ways that the blogosphere has broadened our reading horizons. I can’t tell you the number of wonderful books I have discovered courtesy of fellow bloggers and their rave reviews. BUT. What happens when you pick up a book on a blogger’s recommendation only to find that it’s kind of a stinker? What then? It’s bad enough in real life when someone tells you you’ve gotta read a book and then you don’t care for it, but somehow when this happens in the book blogging world, it seems worse, because you’re publicizing how much you didn’t like the book and are thereby accusing the other blogger of bad taste. So it is with trepidation that I write this review (and maybe that is part of why I’ve been holding off on writing it?)… because The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen, being the first in the Rizolli & Isles series, was a book I never would have picked up on my own, but did so due to a glowing review by a fellow book blogger. Said blogger talked about how the R&I books had become her favorite series and she was just plowing through them because she couldn’t help herself but to read them as fast as was humanly possible. I don’t tend to read a lot of series, and crime thrillers are few and far between on my reading roster, but this blogger was just so effusive that I became curious and decided to give the first book in the series a shot. Now, obviously Tess Gerritsen is an immensely popular author, beloved by millions, and a bad review from me is certainly not going to change that. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to tell all of you that I really did not enjoy The Surgeon at all. The opening to the notes I jotted down in my Excel spreadsheet after finishing it were: “Meh. Kind of stupid really.” Doesn’t that just say it all?  Maybe it does, but I will elaborate for the benefit of those of you who have not experienced this book. The Surgeon is a quick and easy read, provided that you can get through the gore. Probably the gore-level alone was the only thing I found shocking in the book, because the mystery itself was really quite lame and was also frustrating because it was also one of those mysteries that you as a reader have no hope in hell of solving on your own. I HATE when mystery novels revolve around a culprit who essentially is not introduced as an actual character (rather than a faceless/nameless perp) until the last chapter when he/she is being unmasked.  Obviously this tactic will keep your readers guessing until the end, but it just feels inelegant to me.  I much prefer it when authors strike the balance between making their mystery so obvious that it is no mystery at all and being something that is essentially unsolvable, even if you consider yourself a sleuth of Poirot or Miss Marple proportions. So points off for that.  Also, I have to say that The Surgeon falls victim to another one of my least favorite mystery tropes, which is where the motivation of the crime simply hinges upon the culprit being a bad person who just happens to simply enjoy doing bad things. I don’t read 500 pages (even if they are mass market paperback pages!) for the bottom line of “Carl cut the uteri out of 10 ladies because that’s the kind of thing he likes to do.” I’m sorry, but that is a super lame justification for some super freaky behavior. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the world who do creepy things because they are creeps, but this is fiction, so please make up a better story than that! [Note, “Carl” is not a character in The Surgeon (or if he is, I certainly don't remember him). I just made that name up right now. No spoilers here!] As I said earlier, I’m not one of those readers who devours crime fiction, and in fact, I am also not one of those television viewers who watches the hours of crime procedural programs like CSI that networks like CBS seem to love. I generally find shows like CSI to be lacking in narrative and even though I love science and gross stuff pertaining to the body (it’s weird, I know… Tony has told me many times), I just find those kinds of shows boring. Admittedly, I do love the show Bones, but that is less because of the gross factor and more because I find it to be one of those “so bad it’s good shows” that are really addictive, especially if you happen to like to watch tv while you knit. Also, David Boreanaz is a hottie. But I digress. The point is, is that The Surgeon feels like the novel version of a CSI show, and while I realize that there is now a show based on the R&I books, it almost feels like these are books written based on a tv series rather than the reverse. As you might therefore infer, I did not think the writing was all that stellar here, even if there was a blurb on the book that attributed the writing “superb” status. I’m sure many books in this genre are filled with awful prose, but that does not mean that the writing in The Surgeon was anything more than workmanlike. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but Tess Gerritsen is not Toni Morrison (nor is she striving to be, I suspect), so please book blurb writers, some perspective! Also, the weird thing is that I really love sciencey/medical stuff, and yet I felt The Surgeon was overly bogged down by medical terminology and jargon, to the detriment of the flow of the writing and overall readability. Furthermore, I doubt I will be alone in saying that I will forever resent this book for introducing me to the term “vaginal vault”. I don’t know if that’s a term doctors/forensics people actually use or just something Gerritsen cooked up for us, but regardless: Eeeeeeeewwwww! Finally, my last nit to pick is that this book is pitched as the first Rizolli & Isles book, so you’d expect that those two characters would play center stage. Not so much. Rizolli wasn’t actually the lead character, and Isles had the good sense not to even be in the book at all. Moreover, Rizolli was such a horrible human being throughout this book that you’d think her partner, Moore, would actually be the star of this book series, but apparently not. For those of you who want an actual summary of this book, I confess that anything I didn’t jot down in my notes is pretty much no longer residing in the conscious stores of my cerebral cortex, but the premise of the book, so far as I can remember it is that there is a doctor working in Boston who used to work elsewhere and who survived a horrific attack in which her assailant was planning to rape her (which he did) and then cut out her uterus (which he did not... mainly because the doctor managed to shoot him). Said doctor then moved to Boston to escape her tortured past, but now there are new victims cropping up who have been sexually assaulted and their uteri removed! What are the odds of that happening in a new city? Anyway, Moore and Rizolli wind up on the case and have to figure out who is doing these unorthodox hysterectomies, all while Moore and the doctor develop a tendre for each other. Overall, this book was really very ho hum, though slightly traumatic because of the violence and mutilation of body parts. I won’t reveal which blogger convinced me to read this book because I still really respect her and I wouldn’t want others to think less of her due to my dislike of this book (nor would I want her to feel bad). I still intend to try books that she likes that pique my interest in the future, but I shall bid adieu to Rizolli (& Isles, I guess, even though I never met her). Rating: 2 out of 5

17 Comments

  1. 09/15/2011

    I’m sorry, I can’t help but giggle a little bit at reviews like this. I like negative reviews. I can’t help it. 😀

    This sounds like it wouldn’t work for me on multiple levels! I’ve never actually heard of it before, but I’m certainly glad for the forewarning in case I ever come across it.

    But on a more general note, I understand your frustration and worry about giving a bad review to a book recommended to you through blogging. I didn’t used to feel bad giving negative reviews when I started, but once I started getting stuck in a position where i hated universally loved books (like The Time Traveler’s Wife), it was really awkward to want to rant and rave against them but also keep my mouth shut because everyone else loved them so much. It’s a hard balance and one of the big reasons I’m no longer reading any recommended books unless they sound like ones i would have read anyway. Even then, if I start them and they irk me, I take them back to the library!

  2. 09/15/2011

    Great review! I especially appreciate the line “where the motivation of the crime simply hinges upon the culprit being a bad person who just happens to simply enjoy doing bad things. ” I mean, how inept of the author! But anyway, I’m so glad to read your review because all of the points you made convince me that in spite of the very same phenomenon (rave reviews of follow bloggers), I always hate to add a new demanding series to my must read list. You make me feel entirely better for resisting!

  3. 09/15/2011

    Yeah, what Amanda said. I like negative reviews. I’ve also found that no matter how many times I’ve thought I was the lone voice crying out against a super-popular book, if I’ve posted a review, others have piped up and said they felt the same.

    All that said, there are very few people online or off who can get me to read something I wasn’t already inclined to read. I can be extraordinarily stubborn about it, too. (Just ask Jenny how long it has taken me to consider reading anything by Patrick O’Brien–and she’s one of the few people who can get me to read merely on a recommendation with no other information.)

    What’s more usual with me is that a blogger will write about a book that sounds interesting, and then I’ll look into it further and decide to read it. Or there’ll be a book I’m on the fence about and a blog review will tip me in one direction or the other. And then any book I pick up goes through an audition phase where I decide whether the writing is up to snuff. (I read a lot of sample chapters online.)

    Anyway, I’ve seen a couple of bloggers rave about this series, and since I’m very picky about crime novels and they’re more apt to enjoy them, I haven’t taken an interest in it.

  4. 09/16/2011

    Enjoyed reading your review, Steph. Eventhough you didn’t like the book 🙂 This is one of the best ‘negative reviews’ that I have ever read. We have to thank Tess Gerritsen for that – so there is a silver lining here after all 🙂 Your observation – “I much prefer it when authors strike the balance between making their mystery so obvious that it is no mystery at all and being something that is essentially unsolvable” – made me think. I remember reading books by Agatha Christie and James Hadley Chase when I was younger and comparing them : Christie’s mysteries were all about giving clues throughout the story and revealing the identity of the culprit in the end, while Chase’s thrillers started in reverse mode – the identity of the culprit is revealed at the beginning and either the back story or whether the culprit will escape from the law forms the rest of the story. Chase was an author who turned storytelling upside down and still managed to make the book gripping. I don’t know why Chase is not more famous now, because he is really good.

  5. 09/19/2011

    @ Amanda: No need to worry about your hatred of Time Traveler’s Wife, since I wrote a less-than-glowing review about that one as well… And I also like reading negative reviews, because they do tend to be funnier than regular reviews, and it’s also nice when you find someone out there who feels the same way that you do about a loathed book!
     
    @ rhapsody: I have a read/seen a few things recently where the motivation for things seems to be “just because” and I really really hate that kind of storytelling. It’s so boring and uninspiring!
    And obviously it’s entirely possible that the R&I series got better after this book, but I was just so underwhelmed by this one that I won’t be sticking around to find out!
     
    @ Teresa: Yes, it’s also really nice when you get other people letting you know that you aren’t alone in your ambivalence towards a book. It’s one of the things I really like about the book blogging world – that by and large people with all kinds of different tastes are represented.
    In the past few months I’ve had such reading ADHD that if a book isn’t doing it for me pretty quickly then I’m more than happy to foresake it. I think I was just in the mood for something a bit sleazy when I read this and it was an easy enough read that I kept with it. But I think you’re right that I should do a bit more investigating when I stumble across blog finds before rushing out and reading them in case the review I read was a one-off or perhaps not entirely representative of the book itself.
     
    @Vishy: I have never even heard about James Hadley Chase! I am not at all opposed to the backward mystery where the culprit is revealed early on and you figure out why they did it/whether they are going to be caught, because those can be really interesting novels in their own right… I will have to look into JHC the next time I am craving a good mystery.

  6. 09/16/2011

    You were so gentle with this… if only all people were that considerate about a negative review. Here’s the thing in my opinion — just because someone doesn’t like a book that doesn’t mean it’s a BAD book. I am always amazed at how people react to the same book. Two educated people with similar tastes in many things can feel completely opposite about a title- which is kind of cool. It means there’s always hope! (Haha!) Even if someone hates it, I could love it.

    All that to say, I don’t think not liking a book that your friend (or fellow blogger) loves is saying that the person has bad taste — I think it’s just saying that you’re coming from different perspectives and got something different from the work than they did. BUT I totally, TOTALLY understand this feeling (it’s even worse when you know the author, don’t you think??? Eek!).

  7. 09/17/2011

    Love the review, Steph! I’ve not read any Gerrison but I know she is a medical doctor, so that might explain all the terminology etc.

  8. Oh this is really a fantastic review on so many levels! I, like others have mentioned, really love reading negative reviews because they seem to make each reviewer digest the book n a different level than had he or she just liked or loved it. Sorry, anyway, though, that this didn’t really work for you.

  9. 09/19/2011

    Great review, Steph! Don’t think I’ll be reading any of Gerrison’s work anytime soon. And as far as writing a negative review – I do write them, too. I don’t think my not liking a book will necessarily stop someone from reading it and plus, I feel I should be honest about the book – if I like it, then I write that and if I don’t, well, I write that, too. As far as not liking a book that someone recommended, well, that can happen, right. After all, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and sometimes, those opinions don’t match up. Right now I’m reading a book that a fellow blogger raved about and I am hating it – I honestly can’t see why they even liked the book – and thinking of just giving up on it, because why waste my time reading it, right? Anyhow, I’m glad you wrote such an honest review – I like reading both negative and positive reviews 🙂

  10. 09/19/2011

    @ kim: Yes, I knew that Gerrison was a medical doctor, so I assumed that accounted for how jargon-y the whole book was, but I still think it’s interesting she would take that approach when I would assume that most of her readers are not doctors!
     
    @ Pam: I do find that when I dislike a book I am often more eloquent and have a lot more to say about it than if I really really love a book. I’ve also found this to be true for real-life book clubs: the discussion is always more lively and interesting when people disliked the book!
     
    @ Nadia: I just don’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings or have them feel like I’m accusing them of bad taste! I mean, just because a book doesn’t work for me does not mean others won’t enjoy it, or that there was nothing good about it… it just means it wasn’t for me! I like reading negative reviews because they also help give me a sense of what the person writing the review looks for in their books and whether their tastes are similar to mine are not.

  11. 09/23/2011

    Ughh! This book sounds horrible on so many levels I don’t know where to start. Good for you calling a spade a spade, because I have seen it rated high on some other blogs, and was actually looking out for it in the library. Now, I shan’t bother.

    I think serial killers are old hat anyway, and really crime fiction authors need to rethink their approach. There are just way too many such mediocre books out there giving thriller fiction a bad name.

    Such a shame, because when well done, crime fiction is one of my favorite genres.

  12. 09/23/2011

    By the way, I am not sure you will like JHC all that much. He is a very good genre writer but a lot of his plots are pretty much repeats of each other.

    There are plenty of his books available in India, and they make very good guilty reading…just go in expecting to read about cliched blonde bimbos, hard-boiled toughies, and generally all kinds of nasty people. Fun, but not for someone who is not into pulpy crime fiction.

    They are short though, so it’s not too big a time suck reading them.

  13. 09/23/2011

    @ Nishita: If I can save one other person from this terrible book, I will consider my job done! 😉 I just know that there are good crime thrillers out there, so there’s not point wasting time on medicore/bad ones, even if they are really popular!
    And thanks for the details on JHC… I think I would like to try at least one of this novels to see what he’s all about, but it’s good to know that maybe if I read one of his books then that will kind of be like having read them all!

  14. 10/05/2011

    I’ve watched an episode of the tv series which I enjoyed so will be giving this one a go at some point (plus I can’t seem to get enough of CSI and the ilk).) But yeah, sometimes high expectations can have a negative effect especially if it’s on a recommendation. However, I think it’s great that you’ve put down your thoughts. We can’t all like the same books, can we?

  15. 10/05/2011

    @ sakura: I could see myself potentially enjoying the show (though I’m not going to rush out and watch it!), but I don’t think that means I need to read the books as well. For instance, as I said, I really enjoy watching Bones as one of my tv guilty pleasures BUT I started reading the first book in the series and it wasn’t doing much for me…

  16. 10/06/2011

    Sob, sob, sob! It’s me isn’t it? (I am “said blogger”). You’re breaking my heart, Steph, with your non-likeyness 🙁

    Only kidding! It wouldn’t do for us to all love the same books – the world would be a very boring place indeed. I absolutely love this series and have devoured all 9 in just a few months, but I quite understand why other people wouldn’t like them.

    I like the way you have written your review very much, but I do think that other people should make up their own minds about a book too. just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean they won’t (I am refering to some of the comments, not your post).

    Anyway, I am toddling off now with tears in my eyes 😉

  17. 10/09/2011

    @ boof: Ok, you caught me! Yes, you were the blogger who convinced me to try these books, but don’t beat yourself up about it! After all, as you say, things would be boring if we all liked the exact same stuff, AND our tastes do align on a lot of other titles! I still enjoy your blog and hearing about the books you’re reading, and I’m sure you’ll turn me on to some really great books in the future! 😀

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