And so, with “From Potter’s Field,” the cat-and-mouse game between Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta and serial killer Temple Gault comes to a head. 

Gault debuted in “Cruel and Unusual,” and was a shadowy presence in “The Body Farm.” He is the first true nemesis Scarpetta — and her legion of readers — have encountered. 

He is, of course, dastardly ingenious. 

Here, he breaks into CAIN, the FBI’s Crime Artificial Intelligence Network (spearheaded by Kay’s niece, Lucy) in order to muddy the waters of Scarpetta’s investigation. Using her credit card, Gault leaves clues that are orchestrated rather than accidental. And even more menacingly, he delivers the corpse of his latest victim directly to the morgue. Brrr!

Alongside Detective Pete Merino and FBI agent Benton Wesley (with whom her romance is seemingly on the rocks, primarily because he is married), Scarpetta refuses to give into her fear (which manifests as fits of hyperventilation, and almost shooting Lucy — the kid can’t catch a break, I swear…) and digs into Gault’s family history in an effort to understand him, all the while making brilliant deductions from forensic clues.

All of this drama builds to a climax in the New York subway, which ends rather too abruptly, but not necessarily unsatisfactorily, and probably inevitably. That, I think, is why “From Potter’s Field” falls short of Cornwell’s best: its ending is telegraphed because it’s playing within the conventions of the serial killer narrative. All the clever plotting preceding it is interesting, but we know we’re headed for a grand confrontation, from which there can only be one result. That undermines the tension. Not ruinously, but enough to knock this one into mid-tier.

ISBN: 9780751544633
Format: Paperback
Number Of Pages: 400
Published: 1st December 2010
Publisher: Little Brown

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