Essay by Tess Gerritsen, author of The Apprentice and The Surgeon
"Aren't you afraid to be married to her?"
This is a question my husband has been asked again and again, by people
who've read my books. They think that anyone who writes such dark and twisted
thrillers, who spends her days obsessed with serial killers and blood spatters
and autopsies, cannot possibly be normal. That creepy books are surely written
by creepy people.
I think my readers are just a little disappointed when they finally meet me,
and instead of the vampireish woman they've imagined, I turn out to sport no
fangs, have no nervous tics, and freely admit that I'm afraid of guns. And the
dirt under my fingernails is from gardening, not grave-digging. In short, I
appear to be perfectly normal.
Well, as normal as anyone could be who hears a serial killer talking in her
But just as one doesn't need to give birth to be an obstetrician, you don't
need to be homicidal to write convincingly about murder. The human imagination
is capable of both wondrous dreams and terrible nightmares. As a writer, I'm
fascinated by the nightmares. I'm driven by the same curiosity that compelled
me, as a child, to prod anthills with sticks, or turn over rocks to see what
would slither out. I think it's because I live such an utterly normal life, with
so little darkness in it, that I can't help but wonder about the dark side of
human nature, and about what drives evil. I want to understand it, because it's
so alien to me. And so, while I'm doing perfectly ordinary things at home -
feeding my roses, or loading the dishwasher - my mind is wandering a far more
frightening landscape. Characters are speaking to me. What they tell me is
sometimes deeply disturbing.
Of all the characters who've introduced themselves to me, it was Warren Hoyt,
the serial killer in The Surgeon, who hung on most tenaciously, refusing to walk
away, even after the book was done. At odd hours during the day, I'd imagine him
whispering to me, "Don't you wonder what I'm up to these days? Don't you
want to know what I'm planning next?" Even my husband seemed to sense there
was another person living in our house. That's how real Warren had become to
both of us.
We were on vacation in Italy when Warren practically tapped us both on the
shoulders. While driving through Tuscany, we passed a large billboard urging us
to visit "The Torture Museum" in San Gimignano. My husband hit the
brakes and looked at me.
What Warren wanted most of all was to be back in the game. The last time I'd
left him, at the end of The Surgeon, he was sitting in a Massachusetts prison.
But he kept insisting his story wasn't finished. He refused to leave, refused to
make way for another set of characters.
And so I let him have his way. In The Apprentice, Warren returns, to once
again terrorize Detective Jane Rizzoli. But this time, he is not alone.
Although imprisoned, he has cultivated an acolyte, an unseen partner who is
using murderous techniques from Warren's terrible bag of tricks. Only Rizzoli
recognizes the new attacks for what they are: Warren's way of communicating with
her, of letting her know that he is still thinking of her. That he is still as
dangerous as ever.
For two years now, I lived with this creature. People sometimes ask me how I
could let someone so twisted take over my imagination without becoming twisted
Here is where the importance of a balanced life comes in. To counteract the
darkness of my work, I fill my life with sunny pursuits. I enjoy time with my
family. I spend hours in the garden tending my roses, and love the feel of moist
soil, the bright greenness of spring shoots. I also play the fiddle, and one of
my greatest pleasures is jamming with other Celtic musicians - the rowdier the
gathering, the better.
The darkness of one's books does not necessarily reflect the writer's
Oddly enough, I've found that mystery writers are often the gentlest, most
normal people in the world. Perhaps we choose to write these books for the same
reason tourists visit strange and exotic countries - it's foreign territory to
us. Through our writing, we're searching for the answer to why evil exists.
And we can provide, in our books, what real life too often denies us: the
satisfaction of watching its defeat.