This is the ninth story in the Icons of Maine series. People with suggestions of icons are invited to e-mail

Maine author Tess Gerritsen has Hollywood connections. Her New York Times best-selling thriller novels, which center around female crime fighters Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles, are about to become the basis for a new prime time drama series on TNT. The first episode of “Rizzoli and Isles” airs at 10 p.m. Monday, July 12.

“When I went to watch them film the pilot, I was worried I’d be a distraction on set,” said Gerritsen in a phone interview. “What I got out of it is that it takes an army of people to make a TV show. There were 60 to 70 people on set.”

The series stars Angie Harmon as detective Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as medical examiner Maura Isles. “I really enjoyed Angie Harmon in ‘Law & Order.’ She was a reason to watch the show. The casting [for Rizzoli] is perfect except she’s too beautiful. Rizzoli is supposed to be sort of a plain Jane,” Gerritsen said.

To celebrate the series premiere, Gerritsen is throwing a launch party at the Camden Opera House, where she will give a short presentation at 9:30 p.m., just before the show begins. The event is free; tickets must be reserved in advance. “What’s fun about this is that I get to share it with the whole community,” Gerritsen said.

In July, the Camden resident will release her next book titled “Ice Cold,” which is part of the Rizzoli and Isles series. It is based on something that everyone with a GPS has had happen.

“I once followed a GPS through a cornfield,” Gerritsen said. “I thought, ‘What if my characters followed a GPS into oblivion?’ They go into a village where nobody is there. It’s not only a survivor story, but [it’s about] what happened to the people. I love a good ghost story.”

Writing wasn’t a career that her parents encouraged. “My parents — like a lot of Chinese-American people — were very practical. They knew that very few people could make a living as a writer,” she said.

Gerritsen went to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and became a doctor, but she never managed to rid herself of the urge to write.

“I’ve been in Maine 20 years. I had been living in Hawaii for 12 years and started to get ‘island fever,’ this feeling that you don’t want to be on an island anymore. My husband and I read an article about Camden. We came here and thought it was beautiful,” Gerritsen said. “We moved here in the middle of winter. We had two young boys, and for them the snow was such a cool thing.”

After the family arrived, Gerritsen’s husband, Jacob, also a physician, opened a private practice, and Gerritsen decided to concentrate on fiction. Early on, she wrote romance novels but eventually switched to thrillers and millions more readers discovered her work. “The book I’m most proud of sold the fewest copies … ‘Gravity,'” she said.

“I wanted to write a disaster in space. It’s about an astronaut who has to find a way to survive, and her husband is on Earth trying to help her. Male readers liked it, but women didn’t really take to it.”

Gerritsen spent time at NASA doing research for the novel. When she was on tour promoting it, a reaction from a reader helped shift Gerritsen’s career in a new direction.

“I was taking questions and one lady said she liked to read books about serial killers and twisted sex. She was a third-grade teacher,” Gerritsen said. “The crowd went very quiet. I think people were taken back, but she gave me a good idea. I came home and decided I wanted to write about serial killers and twisted sex.”

The author’s books soon took a darker tone and centered on solving grisly murders. In one recent best-selling novel, “The Mephisto Club,” protagonists Rizzoli and Isles encounter a cult that believes in a bloodline of evil.

Through the book, Gerritsen explores little-known folklore involving creatures called the Nephilim. These beings, mentioned briefly in the Bible, were thought to be offspring of fallen angels and human women.

An ancient manuscript called “The Book of the Jubilees,” sometimes called “Little Genesis,” states that one reason God created the great flood in Noah’s time was to rid the world of these foul beings. Gerritsen received a lot of interesting feedback from the book, including an e-mail from one fan who said he was, in fact, Nephilim.

“The kind of books I write, which are thrillers that skirt on horror, can attract a certain kind of reader,” Gerritsen said. “I haven’t come across any people who have scared me at book signings.”

Gerritsen loves her craft and admits that writing a convincing thriller isn’t easy. “It’s hard to make this look easy. My readers are really smart people and to outsmart them is tough,” she said. “I love starting out a new book. You’re so excited with great enthusiasm. When you reach roadblocks and wrestle with the nitty-gritty, then it’s work.

“I’ll get halfway through a book and think ‘I don’t know what happens next’ or ‘I don’t know how to make this exciting.’ I don’t plot out my books. I like to see what happens.”

Gerritsen delves into research mode as issues arise. “I’m working on a book right now about a murder that takes place in Chinatown,” she said. “They find monkey hairs on the body during the autopsy. It has to do with the Monkey King. He’s a sort of warrior creature from fairy tales … I’ve been doing research on how you can tell the difference between human and primate hair.”

Gerritsen has several more months to work on that currently untitled novel. In the meantime, she’ll start promoting her upcoming release “Ice Cold” and hopes her local readers will show up in force to celebrate the new TNT series “Rizzoli and Isles” at the Camden Opera House July 12.

“I hope we can fill every seat in the house,” Gerritsen said.

To reserve tickets, call the Camden Opera House at 236-7963 or e-mail

To get a behind-the-scenes look at “Rizzoli and Isles,” including a video interview with Gerritsen, visit

Freelance writer Dan Harrington lives in Augusta.