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Onyx reviews: The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

People coming to Tess Gerritsen's novels featuring Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles because of the TNT series Rizzoli and Isles should know that there are significant differences. Primary among these is the fact that Rizzoli and Maura are friends, but not close buddies like on the show. Jane is married to an FBI agent and has a daughter. Her mother is engaged to retired cop Vince Korsak (much to Jane and Frankie's dismay). Maura is less of an OCD know-it-all than on the show, though she does see most things in terms of black and white. The two characters interact primarily on the job, and Maura doesn't interfere with investigations beyond conducting autopsies and examining forensic evidence, as it should be. 

Maura takes the back seat in this book. She's persona non grata as far as most of the Boston Police Department is concerned because of her unflinching forensic testimony against an officer accused of beating a suspected cop killer in his custody. Even Jane is unhappy with Maura and their relationship remains strained.

A young boy taking part in a ghost tour in Boston's Chinatown finds a severed hand, which is first believed to be a gag prop but turns out to be real. That leads Jane to a nearby rooftop where they discover the hand's owner, a young woman dressed in black, nearly decapitated, probably by a sword.

The murder happened close to the Red Phoenix, a restaurant where several people were shot to death nearly twenty years earlier. As the investigation develops, Jane starts to think the two crimes are related. The restaurant killings were believed to be the work of a waiter, who supposedly committed suicide in the kitchen after going berserk, but there were no witnesses. 

Someone other than the police is apparently interested in the murders. Perhaps the same person who has been sending notes to families of the victims that say "I know what really happened."

The complex plot may also involve the disappearance of teenage girls. One vanished two years before the massacre at the Red Phoenix: the daughter of martial arts instructor Iris Fang, whose husband was killed at the restaurant. Parts of the book are narrated by Iris, pertaining primarily to her young protégé Bella, a woman she rescued from the mean streets of San Francisco seven years ago. Another missing girl was the daughter of a woman who was also shot to death at the restaurant.

The BPD investigation is made more difficult by the fact that many of the people they want to talk to don't speak English and distrust anyone outside their community. They are also superstitious, believing the Red Phoenix is haunted. The building has remained empty ever since the murders because no one wants to venture inside. To help navigate the cultural complexities, Jane and her partner turn to Johnny Tam, an ambitious Chinese-American detective who hopes the case will be his ticket into the homicide division.

Gerritsen injects Chinese folklore and myths into the story. For a while, it seems like the mystery might have a supernatural element. Is Jane being stalked (or, perhaps, protected) by the Monkey King, a creature with super-human strength? 

The investigation leads in unexpected directions. Some of the twists and turns stretch credibility, but the end result is a thoroughly satisfying mystery thriller tinged with flavors of the orient. Despite the fact that her characters are venturing off in different directions on television, Gerritsen remains true to her vision of Maura and Jane.

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