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Onyx reviews: The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

Former internist Tess Gerritsen delivers a cutting-edge medical suspense thriller with The Surgeon. Having retired from practice to raise her family and write, Gerritsen uses her medical experience to construct a harrowing tale infused with accurate detail. She populates the thriller with an assortment of well-developed characters, something that was less true of her previous novel, Gravity.

Dr. Catherine Cordell has spent the past two years rebuilding her life in Boston after moving from Savannah, where serial killer Andrew Capra left behind a trail of dead women. His signature mutilation was the removal of the victims' wombs, the organ identified most strongly with their gender. He drugged his targets and tortured them physically and emotionally before delivering his coup de grace. Cordell, his next intended victim, managed to work loose from her restraints and kill Capra. Traumatized, she has constructed an insular existence, immersed in her work at Pilgrim Medical Center.

Boston Homicide detective Jane Rizzoli catches a murder case that she sees as the make-or-break opportunity of her career. The only female officer in her unit, she is fighting the glass ceiling and the testosterone-tinged prejudices of her coworkers and superiors. If she can catch this killer, she might earn the respect she feels she deserves.

A crime linkage database search brings Dr. Cordell and Andrew Capra to Rizzoli's attention. There are too many similarities between this new serial killer, dubbed 'The Surgeon,' and Capra. Catherine Cordell is integral to this case, but it's unclear if she is to be another victim or if she's somehow involved in these bestial murders.

The Surgeon knows intimate details of Capra's crimes, things that were never made public. Also unclear is how the killer is selecting his victims. Geographically, they are distributed around Boston, with no obvious overlaps in their daily lives. They are all previous rape victims, but several had never reported these assaults to the police. The killer enters their residences at night and terrorizes them until his perverse sense of gratification is attained.

For some reason, The Surgeon is obsessed with Cordell. He communicates with her even as he kills again. He has access to her workplace, using her computer and moving things around her office. His crimes indicate he is familiar with medical techniques. He uses clamps and sutures to stem bleeding while performing his operations on the still-living victims. Could he be someone who works with Cordell? Or even Cordell herself?

Rizzoli's partner, Thomas Moore, is known around the department as Saint Thomas. A recent widower, he has been an icon for his coworkers, dedicated and scrupulously above board in both his private life and his profession. Moore's halo tarnishes, though, when he becomes too deeply involved with this case. He and Cordell share something that bonds them strongly: They have both suffered pain. Moore's judgment is clouded by his attraction to the vulnerable doctor. His superiors send him to Georgia to reexamine the Capra case and separate him from Cordell.

Rizzoli's overzealous desperation to impress her colleagues leads her to use ill-advised tactics to further the case. Both she and Moore are forced to work from the sidelines as The Surgeon escalates his activities, taunting the police at every turn.

This book is a remarkable step forward for Gerritsen. Both plotting and characterization are very strong. Aggressively marketed by her publisher, The Surgeon looks like a good candidate for her breakout novel.

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