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'The Sinner' delivers a white-knuckle tale

THE SINNER, by Tess Gerritsen, Ballantine, 342 pages, $24.95.

Dr. Maura Isles, a Boston medical examiner, is nicknamed "The Queen of the Dead." It is an unpleasant name but unavoidable, considering her profession.

In Tess Gerritsen's latest novel, "The Sinner," two nuns are found amid unspeakable carnage in the chapel of Our Lady of Divine Light. One is dead and one is critically injured. The autopsy reveals that the dead woman, 20-year-old Sister Camille, gave birth before she was murdered.

Then a second victim is discovered, also a woman, mutilated beyond recognition in an abandoned building. This case is directly related to leprosy. Not only is Isles kept continually busy, but Jane Rizzoli, a young and feisty homicide detective, begins working around the clock. Before the case is solved, numerous connections across the globe generate personal turmoil for both Isles and Rizzoli.

Perhaps at the peak of her skills as an author of medical thrillers, Tess Gerritsen has written a fascinating story with the principal focus on two very interesting women. Gerritsen is not only talented with words, she has unusual medical and scientific expertise, which gives all her books a precious credibility. "The Sinner" shows that the author is consistent in crafting a good story that holds the interest of the reader.

As with her other books, Gerritsen successfully sets up a suspenseful, white-knuckle tale all the way to the end. We also meet the surviving nun's internist, Dr. Matthew Sutcliffe; Isles' ex-husband, Dr. Victor Banks, who does humanitarian work for One Earth; Detectives Barry Frost, Jerry Sleeper and Darren Crowe; and Mother Mary Clement and Father Brophy from the church.

At a time when the Catholic Church is under ongoing scrutiny and scandal, Gerritsen creates a particularly sympathetic priest, a man of courage and humanity.

Then there is FBI agent Gabriel Dean, Rizzoli's sometime love interest in a previous Gerritsen novel, who inspires unusual intensity and romantic affection from Rizzoli. Virtually at the same time, Isles is faced with her ex-husband invading her life when she was finally over him emotionally. The two romantic sidelights complicate a very delicate case. The worst possibility for Isles is the looming suspicion that Dr. Banks may have been involved in the crime.

Even though this story is complex, everything fits together eventually. The climax answers a world of questions that make reading the book satisfying. That includes Octagon Chemicals, Graystones Abbey, leprosy, a mass killing in India, a humanitarian doctor — and some of the reasons that some women choose to enter a convent.

It's not only a terrific story, it provokes thought about a lot of other issues of international import. And it's real, without special effects, a story that emanates from the real life around us.


E-MAIL: dennis@desnews.com