In Predator, Book of the Dead, and Scarpetta (books fourteen through sixteen in the Kay Scarpetta series), a major character discovers they have a brain tumour; one sexually assaults another; two marry each other; and one gets shot in the head. In more than one of these books, the culprit has a personal vendetta against one of the main cast members; their crimes are connected to their hatred of Kay, or Lucy, or Benton, or Marino; or a mixture of them.
The series is now too convoluted and soap operatic; the simplicity of those early first-person narrated Scarpetta’s has evaporated. Once, it was enough for a body to arrive in the morgue; for Kay to commence the autopsy; for her to realise something amiss, and proceed to involve herself in the investigation with her law enforcement partners. Now, every psychopath has a personal connection. That’s fine, once in a while. But Kay can’t be the spark for every killer’s spree.
I really want the series to get back on track, and I’m committed to seeing it through; the remaining books, including the just-published Autopsy, are in my reading pile. But my excitement has diminished.
After a few lacklustre entries in the Scarpetta series (culminating with “Blow Fly,” which asphyxiated from profuse intertextuality), I was convinced Patricia Cornwell’s literary franchise had lost its way and apprehensive about continuing my journey through each instalment. But actually, “Trace” is a return to form, and in fact a perfectly suitable jumping on point for series newcomers.
Here, Cornwell brings Kay (and Pete Marino) back to Richmond (where she was previously the Chief Medical Examiner) as a consultant for the newly-installed chief. She’s there to determine 14-year-old Gilly Paulsson’s cause of death, which has the local experts stumped.
A stylistic metamorphosis — from first person to third, with James Patterson-inspired chapters that can run as short as a couple of paragraphs — can’t salvage the twelfth Kay Scarpetta novel, “Blow Fly,” which is the overwrought culmination of various plot threads from the last few books in the series.
That means, yes — more of French serial killer Jean-Baptiste Chandonne, aka Loup-Garou, now on death row; and more of his equally depraved brother Jay Talley, who is on a kidnapping, torture and killing spree. But the seismic revelation here is our discovery — and Scarpetta’s — of the truth about Benton Wesley’s death and — SPOILER! — his not-so-miraculous return; and the involvement of Scarpertta’s niece, Lucy Farinelli, and the ever-irascible Detective Pete Marino.
“The Last Precinct” picks up right where “Black Notice” left off: Kay Scarpetta, injured and reeling from her brutal takedown of the French serial killer, Loup-Garou — ‘the Werewolf.’ Which makes the abrupt shift to first person present tense (from first person past tense) all the more discombobulating; a minor pet peeve, but something that stuck in my craw for the duration.
This eleventh novel in the series is overstuffed; pockmarked with intrigue, but its narrative impetus curtailed by excessive talking and retreading over events from Scarpetta’s previous cases. The individual pieces are fascinating, but the fused result is muddled, like the merging of multiple jigsaw puzzles; one at a time, please.
You know: she was the partner of Kay Scarpetta’s serial killer nemesis Temple Gault, who our favourite Virginia Chief Medical Examiner dispatched a few books back, in “From Potter’s Field.”
Well, she’s back, folks — escaped from a New York City hospital for the criminally insane. And she’s made no secret of her desire to exact revenge on Kay, her hyper-intelligent niece Lucy, and Benton Wesley, her FBI-profiler boyfriend.
“Unnatural Exposure” opens with Kay Scarpetta investigating the possible link between murders in Dublin, Ireland and Richmond, Virginia. She is increasingly suspicious that Ireland’s serial dismemberments from ten years ago are the work of the same individual they’re dealing with at home.
When the butchered corpse of an elderly woman is found in a landfill, law enforcement intuits the killer has struck again. But further examination suggests not; and when Scarpetta uncovers a pattern of pustules on the body’s torso, followed by a visit to a death scene on Tangier Island, where a woman has died of smallpox, it becomes clear she is up against an even deadlier threat — one that has Scarpetta firmly in their sights, as they leave sinister computer messages under the name ‘deaddoc.’
Seven novels deep into my Kay Scarpetta reading marathon I’m starting to feel like a broken record, because so much of what I feel works and does not work in “Cause of Death” has been enumerated previously.
This is my favourite kind of crime novel, which begins with one dead body, and explodes into something far more spectacular and far-reaching. The corpse is investigative reporter Ted Eddings, who died — or was killed — during an unauthorised dive in an inactive Naval shipyard. The opening pages are some of Cornwell’s most atmospheric, as Chief Medical Examiner Scarpetta dons a wetsuit, and dives into pitch-black waters alongside a Navy SEAL rescue squad to examine the body.
I had such grand plans to re-read (or read anew, in some cases) every single Scarpetta mystery this year, before the release of “Autopsy” at the end of November. That’s 25 books, by the way. And here I am, August already, and I have read ― oops ― five. But I’ll stay the course, friends. I made you a promise.
Anywho ― here we are with “The Body Farm,” in which Chief Medical Examiner and FBI consultant Kay Scarpetta (alongside series regulars, Detective Pete Merino and FBI agent Benton Wesley) investigate the murder of 11-year-old Emily Steiner, whose brutal maiming matches the modus operandi of escaped killer Temple Gault; who eagle-eyed readers will remember from “Cruel and Unusual.”
“… he thanked God for a mercy I saw no evidence of and claimed promises too late for God to keep.”
Here we go. The fourth book in the Kay Scarpetta series, and I feel like Patricia Cornwell is really hitting her stride. This is everything I want from my crime fiction: a super compelling hook fleshed out in a serpentine plot, its now firmly-established characters enmeshed in a wider conspiracy.