Gerritsen On Follett's Repellent, Fascinating 'Needle' Tess Gerritsen — a physician turned thriller writer — is the author of more than 15 thrillers. Her series about police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles has been adapted into TV show, which debuts Monday on TNT. She recommends Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle.

Gerritsen On Follett's Repellent, Fascinating 'Needle'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. And we continue our summer book series "Thrilled to Death." It's our new summer series where we talk with thriller writers about the writing process, and what works inspire them.

Ever since Holmes and Watson, the thriller genre has been the home of buddies, friends from different walks of life who join forces to solve crimes. Author Tess Gerritsen is the latest writer to try this approach. She's a physician as well as being a thriller author, and her new book is called "Ice Cold." And tonight, a television show based on one of her previous works, "Rizzoli Isles," is debuting on the network TNT.

Tess Gerritsen, welcome to the program.

NORRIS: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Can you do us a favor? Could you give us a quick description of "Rizzoli Isles," and why these two women are quintessential Gerritsen characters?

NORRIS: Jane Rizzoli is the outsider. She's a classic outsider. She's the woman who was raised with two brothers and always had to defend herself. So now she's in a blue-collar, kind of a tough neighborhood, and she also has to be a homicide detective in a unit that has all men. And because of that, she is somebody who has a little bit of a chip on her shoulder, and she tries to be better than the men.

Maura Isles, I have to admit, is very much like me. She believes in science. She's a medical examiner, a medical doctor. She wants to look at the logic behind why things happen.

NORRIS: When you're writing a buddy thriller, is there something that allows you to, I guess, write about both sides of your own character, if you can sort of explore people through different portals, if you've got this buddy?

NORRIS: Yes, absolutely. That's a good question. What I most identified with in Jane was that outsider thing. I'm Asian-American, and I was the only Chinese girl growing up in a white school in San Diego. So I understood what it was like to be different, to always want to fit in and never feel like you ever could. And whenever I would write Jane's scenes, that was what I was feeling.

NORRIS: Thriller writers deal with material that is deep and scary, and takes the reader to some very dark spaces. How much do you allow the reader to enter your life - because you write about yourself, and in some ways, you also write about other things that have happened to you. You've talked about the childhood difficulties that you experienced with your own mother, how that has informed some of your fiction. How much do you let people in?

NORRIS: I try to make them think it's all fiction. I don't want them to know how much of myself is in those stories. When I think about why they are so dark, I mean, I can give you two reasons why.

One of them is that my mother is an immigrant from China, and she loved horror films. So I spent my childhood watching every scary movie that Hollywood ever made. And I think that gave me the best education for storytelling. It also made me want to reproduce the scary moments that I felt, sitting in a theater at the age of 5.

The other thing that came from my childhood - and I think it drives a lot of my fiction - there was a beloved family friend. I considered him an uncle. He was always good to me, and I really adored him. And then he went to prison for murdering a woman.

It makes me realize that there is a lot that's hidden behind a smiling face. And I think fiction, for me, is a way of trying to understand why people do the things they do - and trying to explain what is, at heart, illogical.

NORRIS: Tell me about the works that inspired you. You talked about the films you used to watch. What about the books? Are there thriller writers that you turn to when you need inspiration?

NORRIS: Well, you know, sometimes I think about: What is it about a thriller that grabs my attention? And I notice a lot of them have to do with women. One I was thinking about recently was Ken Follett's "Eye of the Needle."

I was not really reading that many thrillers when I picked up that book, and it was the first time I saw a male writer so well describe, in very great detail, the inner workings of a woman. And that woman ended up being the heroine of that particular story.

NORRIS: Now, you talked about the influence that your mother had on you, sitting there watching all those horror movies with her. I'm wondering what your profession...


NORRIS: ...your chosen profession, the impact that that might have on your two boys. Have you thought about that?

NORRIS: You know, I think I gross my sons out quite a bit. There's a story that we remember. It was around Halloween, and they were responsible for coming up with a scary room in the local haunted house.

And I said oh, I have a great idea. We're going to go to the butcher shop. We're going to get entrails, pig entrails, and we're going to lay out a person as if he's on the operating table, and pile the entrails on top of him. Won't that be scary?

And they said Mom, you are just too gross. We can't even think about that.


NORRIS: So did you do it?

NORRIS: No, they didn't. I can't remember what happened. But I still remember how they looked at me with utter horror. And these were teenage boys.


NORRIS: So, you know, when you can gross out your own teenage boys, I think that kind of says something about your family.

NORRIS: Tess Gerritsen, it's been great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

NORRIS: Thank you.

NORRIS: That's Tess Gerritsen. She joined us for our series "Thrilled to Death." Her latest book is called "Ice Cold."

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