The Mephisto Club
is a 2006 murder mystery by Tess Gerritsen, and the sixth book in her Rizzoli & Isles
series. Centered on a murder committed on Christmas Eve, it concerns Boston medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles and her detective partner, Jane Rizzoli, who are called to investigate the crime. There, they find that a young lady has been brutally murdered, her blood used to write an obscure series of symbols on the wall: three inverted crosses and some illegible others. The importance of understanding the evidence compels the detective to recruit the Mephisto Club, an international society that applies its knowledge of symbology to unravel mysteries, typically in Europe.
The Mephisto Club’s members believe that demons exist in human form and walk the earth committing crime. While Jane is bemused by the club and rejects its beliefs, Maura is ambivalent about the existence of demons and feels a romantic connection to Daniel Brophy, one of the club’s priests. As with all Gerritsen’s novels, the two protagonists overcome their distractions to solve the case together in the end.
The novel begins on Christmas. Maura and Jane are called to a grisly crime scene, where a woman’s dismembered body has been found next to a Latin phrase written in blood: “I HAVE SINNED.” Whoever called the police to the house had also called Dr. Joyce O’Donnell, a scholar of murder history. Through O’Donnell, Jane learns about the Mephisto Club, an opaque organization that seems well connected.
Soon, a second corpse is found with another Latin phrase. Maura and Jane consider that they may be the real targets of the crimes. While Jane looks to solve the case with science and evidence, Maura is tempted by the Mephisto Club’s allure and mystery. The club claims to know the truth behind the murders: that demons inhabiting bodies are antagonizing the earth. It cites apocryphal tomes, including the Bible, which speak of demons existing in the background of civilization.
Though the murders seem unconnected and the typical work of a deranged psychopath, the Mephisto Club’s mysticism successfully pervades the investigation. Jane’s attempt to get rid of the club is made impossible by the killer’s apparent belief in the same ancient source of evil.
Gerritsen moves between perspectives on the case, lending greater context to the protagonists’ attitudes and beliefs. In addition to Jane and Maura, there is a third character named Lily who inhabits a parallel timeline, as she runs between European cities trying to escape a relentless pursuer. Lily’s plotline gives critical clues to the meaning of the Boston murders, revealing that the killer is apparently a normal human murderer after all—not possessed, but clever and psychopathic.
Back in Boston, Jane and Maura deal with some personal problems carried over from previous books in the series. Jane comes to realize that her parents’ distance from each other is probably due to her father’s cheating. Maura becomes infatuated with Father Brophy during a routine investigation, and frequently talks with Anthony Sansone, the head of the Mephisto Club, which proves problematic for maintaining objectivity on the case. Sansone claims that spirits have been antagonizing him, pointing to evidence that his front door was defaced with strange symbols.
The truth about the Mephisto Club is ultimately left unresolved. It is unclear whether it’s powerful enough to get its fingers in a criminal case without drawing questions from law enforcement, or whether it has a real history of solving crimes after all. The killer’s identity is also left open to interpretation. On one hand, it is obviously a deranged man, and the club is distracting the investigators with its own absurd agenda. On the other, there are mystical forces at work that can explain many gruesome murders in history. The ending questions whether the Mephisto Club’s apocryphal tomes were actual historical accounts.
At the novel’s end, Maura manages to break herself off from Father Brophy, who disappears with his compatriots. The string of murders ends, though they don’t manage to close the case, since the murderer’s identity is never discovered. The novel thus draws suspense from the gray area between the objective sense of history we can acquire through evidence and artifacts and the “real” history we can only ever imagine.