A new Tess Gerritsen novel is always a cause for celebration. The publication of LAST TO DIE is a particularly welcome event for a number of reasons. First of all, the book plausibly removes both Boston Police Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles from the familiar, if not always comfortable, Massachusetts environment. Secondly, it features the return of the mysterious Mephisto Society, a group of dedicated individuals whose lives have been tragically touched by what they consider to be the collective action of evil. A third reason --- one that a number of long-time readers may find most significant --- is that the book shows signs of renewed warmth between the two principal characters, whose relationship has cooled a bit over the last couple of installments.
"As with her previous installments, Gerritsen never repeats herself and is not afraid to take chances with new plot directions and twists with both short- and long-range consequences.... This is a key book in a series that keeps getting better and better."
While LAST TO DIE may contain all of the above elements, the most compelling reason for reading it is that the entire narrative is propelled by an exciting and puzzling mystery. It begins when Rizzoli and Isles find themselves at a crime scene where almost all the members of a family --- husband, wife and three foster children --- have been brutally murdered. There is but one survivor: 14-year-old Teddy Clock, who was able to escape being killed by hiding under his bed. What is unusual is that Teddy also escaped death two years previously, when his parents were murdered while the family was living on a boat off the Virgin Islands.
Subsequently, Isles journeys to Maine to the Evensong boarding school. Run by the Mephisto Society, Evensong is now home to Julian, the teenager whose life became intertwined with hers under dangerous circumstances a year previously. While at Evensong, Isles learns that two other students, Will Yablonski and Claire Ward, have stories very similar to Teddy’s, where they were each twice the sole survivors of attacks upon their birth and foster families. Rizzoli, hoping that the isolated and closely guarded environment of Evensong will keep Teddy safe, takes him there.
A grisly discovery is made in the woods surrounding the grounds of the boarding school shortly after his arrival, and it slowly becomes clear that there is some connection among the three students whose lives have been affected so violently and tragically. One of the elements that seems to tie them together is the presence of a mysterious woman who assisted Will and Claire at the respective scenes of the second attempts upon their lives. The answer to the puzzling and deadly mystery that ties the three young people together goes back in time and across the seas to a deadly tableau in Rome, and is ultimately revealed in a climax that not everyone will survive.
As with her previous installments, Gerritsen never repeats herself and is not afraid to take chances with new plot directions and twists with both short- and long-range consequences. In the case of LAST TO DIE, the implications will be far-reaching not only for Rizzoli and Isles but also for the Mephisto Society, from whom more will almost definitely be heard. This is a key book in a series that keeps getting better and better.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 24, 2012