A return to what she does best

2011-02-09 00:00

ANYONE who has read systematically through Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta oeuvre — 18 novels in all — will know that somewhere in the middle both Cornwell and Scarpetta went through a very spotty patch (during which Scarpetta was sidelined in favour of laboured attempts at lighthearted novels, pretty pitiful). And then, presumably realising that she was hopeless at comedy and best at solid, fact-based stuff, Cornwell did some serious homework and got Scarpetta back on track.

The homework, meticulously done and with all sources and help acknowledged, shows to excellent advantage in this new, very substantial offering, in which Scarpetta, unusually these days, writes in the first person.

It opens in Dover Air Force Base, where, sporting the rank of Colonel, she’s learning the art of “virtual autopsy”, a groundbreaking procedure that could soon revolutionise forensic science.

And startlingly soon she needs to use her new skills in the investigation of the death of a young man, who drops dead quite near her home, apparently of a heart condition. Preliminary examination reveals, however, that he may have been alive when he was zipped into a body bag and placed in the cooler, and the new 3D radiology scans show that he was murdered in an exceptionally cruel fashion. The chase is on, the stakes are high, the danger is great.

Way-out and advanced though they are, the forensics are elegantly and lucidly handled: as usual, momentum and drive of the plot have priority and while the science is important, Cornwell never tries to blind readers with it. Scarpetta herself comes across with somewhat more warmth than usual, perhaps because we’re given a view into secrets of her past life, and other series characters seem more likeable and interesting than of yore. These include her devoted police friend Pete Marino, now mellower and more socially acceptable than hitherto; her dysfunctional genius niece Lucy (who shares quite a few qualities with the author herself); and her husband, FBI man Benton. There’s a new character too, a fourlegged one: an unsentimentally conceived canine companion who will, no doubt, appear again.

Ingenious, well-written, cleverly assembled, this new book does indeed bring Cornwell back to where she belongs, at the forefront of forensic crime writing. A treat.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.