BODY DOUBLE - by Tess Gerritsen, MD, Ballantine Books, New York, © 2004, 391 pp, PB $8, Bantam Doubleday AudioBooks, 5 CDs, 5 ˝ hours, $29.95.
Review by Del Meyer, MD
Tess Gerritsen, MD, an internist, left a successful practice to rear her children and try her hand at writing. In 1996, she wrote her first medical thriller, Harvest, www.delmeyer.net/bkrev_Harvest.htm, the chilling tale of the Russian organ-harvesting Mafia after an ex-cop told her about Russian orphans disappearing from the streets and suspected to be sold as organ donors. (Reviewed in Sacramento Medicine, January 1998). The following year, she wrote her second medical suspense thriller, Life Support, www.delmeyer.net/bkrev_LifeSupport.htm, in which she addresses a number of medical issues—peer review, hospital discipline, doctors as owners of free-standing surgery centers, and just plain ruthless hospital medical/administrative politics revolving around an outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease during the Mad Cow epidemic. (Reviewed in Sacramento Medicine, June 1998.) She then treated us with two more quite different medical thrillers, Blood Stream and Gravity, www.delmeyer.net/bkrvjf00.htm. (Reviewed in Sacramento Medicine, January/February 2000.) These were followed by The Surgeon, in which a technician posing as a surgeon removes damaged women’s uteri without anesthesia. When all seemed to be quiet with the Surgeon presumably dead, low and behold, there was The Apprentice, who learned the same trade - only he removed the uteri of wealthy women. Now in Body Double, she treats us to the next logical step in this sequence of medical horrors.
Dr Maura Isles, the Medical Examiner in the Gerritsen medical thrillers, comes across a body on the morgue table that appears to be her double. But Dr Isles was adopted. The driver’s license indicates that the dead woman had the same birth date as Dr Isles. When she checks the blood type, it also matches Dr Isles. The woman was shot to death in front of Dr Isles’ home while she was at a forensic pathology meeting in Paris. If the person on the table is really Dr Isles’ identical twin, was she the real target? Is she still the target?
To find the killer who is on a cross country spree, Dr Isles must trace her history to the mother she never knew. She finds that the body on the table, her double, had met her mother, Amalthea Lank, in a prison psychiatric ward. Dr Isles’ investigation must involve her mother. But she’s psychotic so what can she find out from her? She’s in prison for a lifetime sentence for a double homicide. Can a frail elderly woman really kill two adults? Or is her mother just pretending as she masterminds the murders from prison? Who else is involved? Why are all the murdered women nine months pregnant and the fetuses missing when the bodies are dug up?
After meeting her mother’s psychiatrist, she becomes aware that the psychiatrist is also visiting Warren Hoyt, The Apprentice in Gerritsen’s previous novel who was shot through the spine by his last victim. He lays institutionalize with paraplegia. Why is her mother’s psychiatrist also visiting Hoyt?
Gerritsen treats a number of medical psychiatric problems and questions whether evil has a genetic basis. She finds out that her mother was married to a killer. So, is Dr Isles a daughter of two killers? When the DNA confirms this, is she also at risk of becoming a murderer herself? How this unfolds is really a tour de force.
The five hours of the audio CDs read by Anne Heche were also well done with superb multi-character intonations that made both male and female voices authentic.
Tess Gerritsen has really mastered this genre of horror around the female uterus. This novel is a definite page turner. One can only wonder if there is another aspect of this genre still to be explored. At her current rate of writing a book every year or two, we shouldn’t have to wait long.