Suspense novelist Tess Gerritsen comes by her sense of the macabre honestly. Her mother was a Chinese immigrant who learned English by watching American horror films, so Gerritsen spent hours watching creature features such as The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. "My mom was an immigrant and her English was not that good," Gerritsen tells us. "She really liked horror films. When a monster is coming at you, you don't need a lot of language skills, so those films worked for her."
A medical doctor, Gerritsen has had a successful writing career since her first medical suspense novel, 1997's Harvest. Her latest release, Last to Die, continues her Rizzoli & Isles series, which is the basis for the hit TNT television show starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. Last to Die follows three teens who have one horrible thing in common. Their families were brutally massacred. Now, three years later, their foster families have also been murdered. To protect them, they've been sent to a boarding school in rural Maine. Detective Rizzoli and coroner Isles discover that all of the students and the faculty at the school are survivors of brutal crimes. When intruders infiltrate the school, the students join forces with Rizzoli and Isles to protect themselves.
The Rizzoli and Isles series, boosted by the success of the television series, prompted the first ever RizzlesCon this summer, a fan convention of the show and characters. "Fans came from around the world, from Australia and Iceland, everywhere. I didn't realize how beloved these two characters were around the world. It was great to see."
Part of the series's appeal is Gerritsen's use of suspense and tension rather than grisly gore. "I don't like violence. I don't show things that make me wince; the violence takes place off-stage. I saw grisly scenes in the operating room, but there was a different mind-set; I was thinking, 'How do I fix this?' not 'Who did this?' It was different."
Despite spending much of her time writing about evil people and dark situations, she says she's untouched by it all. "Mystery writers are probably more serene because all of our violent tendencies and urges get put on the page; we're probably less violent and have fewer nightmares than the average person even though we spend lots of time thinking about crimes and criminals."
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Tess Gerritsen reads from and signs The Last to Die at 6:30 p.m. on September 5 at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, visit the bookstore's website or call 713-524-8597. Free.