“A seductive shapeshifter of a novel”

A rave review for CHOOSE ME in the Wall Street Journal: 

Boston is the setting of “Choose Me” (Thomas & Mercer, 320 pages, $24.95), a seamless collaboration between authors Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver. Police detectives Frances “Frankie” Loomis and her partner, MacClennan, have come to investigate the death of 22-year-old Taryn Moore, a college student who fell from her 5th-floor balcony to the sidewalk below.

Taryn recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend, the detectives are told, and it seems likely she committed suicide. But the meticulous Frankie, single mom of twin 18-year-old daughters, inspects Taryn’s apartment “with a mother’s knowing eye.” A frozen meal was put in the microwave but left uneaten. The dead girl’s cell phone is nowhere to be found. The detective’s instincts whisper: You missed something. Don’t turn away yet.

“Choose Me” begins as an engrossing police procedural. But this is a seductive shapeshifter of a novel, full of flashbacks and revelations. Taryn, who was pregnant at the time of her death, was brilliant but unstable. When her boyfriend broke up with her, she transferred her obsessions to her favorite professor, Jack Dorian, a married man with whom she began to display the same delusions she had with her callous ex. Which man made her pregnant? Did carrying a child induce in her a vulnerable depression, or a vengeful rage?

The psychological suspense heightens as we’re given deeper glimpses into the psyches of Taryn and those in her orbit. Taryn was a budding classics scholar, and she rejected the passive victimhood of women like Queen Dido in favor of the assertive stance of Medea. “To start a new life,” she thought, “one must burn the old one.” Professor Dorian, guilt-wracked over his own behavior, knows: “This is not going to end well.”

The rhythms of the police procedural reassert themselves through the persona of Frankie, a “matronly woman with bifocals and a navy-blue pantsuit.” Ms. Gerritsen and Mr. Braver bring all their characters to believable life—from Frankie’s well-meaning partner Mac, who gives her dating tips, to Taryn, hellbent on becoming a worthy successor to her mythic inspirations.


It started over cocktails

A few years ago, novelist Gary Braver and I were at a Boston bookstore Christmas party. We’ve been friends for about 25 years, and we started talking about the #MeToo movement, which was then in the news. Maybe it was the wine, or the easy camaraderie of writers sharing stories, but I said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a #MeToo situation written from both the male and the female perspectives?  Even if both characters lived through the identical events, would they describe the same story? And what if a man wrote the male POV and a woman wrote the female POV?”

That’s  how CHOOSE ME got rolling. It was an experiment, just an off-the-cuff proposal that might have gone nowhere. Neither Gary nor I had ever collaborated on a novel with anyone, and we had no idea how collaborations even worked. We didn’t even have an outline.  All we could agree on was that the young woman would end up dead, and her married lover would be the prime suspect. But did he kill her? We didn’t know. Nor did we know much about our characters … yet.

I went home to Maine, got back to work on my next Rizzoli & Isles novel, and forgot about my cocktail-inspired idea. A few weeks later, Gary emailed me the first chapter of our #MeToo story, told from the point of view of Jack Dorian, a married university professor. It’s the scene where Jack first meets Taryn Moore, a brilliant and beautiful student. Since Gary is a real-life professor of English, he was writing with the authority of one who’s been in the classroom. I received those pages and thought, OK, then. My turn to write a chapter.

And that’s how Taryn came alive on the page for me. She revealed herself as a passionate, obsessive young woman who’s terrified of abandonment. When she was a child, her father walked out on her and her mother. Her boyfriend Liam has just broken up with her. Taryn is wounded and desperate for love, and one morning she walks into Jack Dorian’s classroom.

Bad things are about to happen.

Trading chapters over email, Gary and I gradually tightened the screws on our characters. He’d write a Jack chapter. I’d react by writing a Taryn chapter. We were ruthless with each other (or our characters were, anyway.) In this story, there are no characters wearing white hats. These are flawed people who make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Will you like them? Maybe not. But you will recognize them. And maybe you’ll admire their resilience and feel their panic as they fight for what matters to them.

It was fun collaborating, it was also exhausting, and there were times when I thought we’d never finish it. But now CHOOSE ME is out in the world and it was an education for me about how men and women view the world — and each other — very differently.

And that, my friends, was the whole point.


Discussion questions for CHOOSE ME

If your book club is discussing CHOOSE ME, these might get some lively conversations going!

  1. Is Taryn a victim? A villain? Or both?
  2. Do you personally know anyone like Taryn Moore?
  3. How did the course Taryn took with Jack (“Star-crossed Lovers”) relate to the storyline and characters?
  4. Do you think that the punishment for Jack was fair–too much, too little, just right?
  5. In Jack’s place, would you have handled the aftermath of the affair differently?
  6. Even if you don’t like what the characters did, can you empathize with Taryn and Jack?
  7.  If you were Maggie, would you take Jack back?
  8.  How did being a woman and a mother of teenagers influence Det. Frankie Loomis’s approach to this case? Do you think being a woman is an advantage in her job?