Keeping The Dead, By Tess Gerritsen

What does the crime writer Tess Gerritsen have in common with Clint Eastwood – apart, that is, from being a massively successful purveyor of entertaining popular culture? In order to buy studio funding for his personal projects, Eastwood would periodically turn out a crowd-pleasing thriller that focused on suspense rather than character. That appears to be what the highly talented Gerritsen has done in Keeping the Dead. Yet her seamless blend of good writing and pulse-racing tension has long been a stock-in-trade, so no division between serious and popular books was ever on the cards.

This new book, however, is markedly more linear and less character-driven than her usual fare. All the page-turning skills that distinguished such earlier books as The Mephisto Club and The Bone Garden are profusely in evidence, but those who love her work may wish that she had found time for more character development of her series heroines, forensic anthropologist Maura Isles and detective Jane Rizzoli.

Rizzoli and Isles barely draw breath when investigating a particularly grisly and arcane murder mystery. A media rumpus has erupted at Pilgrim Hospital, as a dead woman is given an X-ray with Maura Isles in attendance. But the woman has been dead for centuries – the subject is a mummy. When a bullet is discovered in the body, Maura calls on her associate, Detective Rizzoli, to register a homicide. The spotlight is thrown on a family-owned museum where, behind a false wall, gruesome finds are made. It becomes apparent that the two women are up against a psychopath – a killer playing elaborate games for obscure purposes.

There is a more overt feminist slant here than in earlier books. Both heroines are far more capable and resourceful than any of the venal, stupid or criminal males they encounter.

Finally, though, what counts is Gerritsen's unassailable skill at delivering visceral, invigorating entertainment.