Books in Review

By Pamela Mortimer




A Kay Scarpetta Novel

By Patricia Cornwell


Patricia Cornwell is far and away America’s most notable and successful crime writer. Predator, her fourteenth novel featuring lead character and forensics expert Dr. Kay Scarpetta, made its debut at #1 on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. Not bad considering that her last novel, Trace, was also at the top of that same list.


Dr. Scarpetta, the former Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, is now freelancing at the National Forensic Academy in Florida – a facility founded by her renegade niece, Lucy Farinelli. Lucy, former FBI and ATF, is a technology expert who has made millions from the sale of revolutionary software and is now free to do as she pleases, inside and outside the law. Enigmatic and tough, Lucy is the woman in black.


Scarpetta’s expertise is hard won. A former Fed with both medical and law degrees, she has seen it all. From vicious serial killers to virtually every type of crime scene you can imagine to having her lover, FBI psychological profiler Benton Wesley, supposedly blown to bits by a murderous villain. Dr. Scarpetta is strong and analytical; her thoughts and actions are calculated and precise.


In Predator, Scarpetta is once again working with her world-renowned team – Benton, Lucy, and former Richmond, Virginia police detective Pete Marino. In a case that stretches from sunny Florida to snowy Boston, Scarpetta must weave together the threads of several cases that seem unrelated except for a few undeniable facts. A dead woman in Boston bears red handprints painted on her breasts and buttocks, exactly the same type and design as those found on a woman Lucy picked up in a bar in Florida. Marino gets a mysterious phone call from a man named “Hog”, who suggests that they re-open the Johnny Swift investigation, citing murder. Dr. Swift, a close friend of Lucy’s, was found dead in his house by his twin brother. It was ruled as a suicide but has all the validity of the magic bullet theory. How does someone pull the trigger on a shotgun when he has just come out of double wrist surgery?


The plot thickens when a family of four disappears into thin air. Two sisters and their two foster children, all immigrants from South Africa, simply vanish. There’s no sign that anything is amiss – until one of them turns up tortured and very dead. Across the way, in plain sight of the missing family’s home, an old woman who complains about a Department of Agriculture worker destroying her citrus trees also meets with violent ends. How could they be connected? It will take the unique combination of Scarpetta’s undeniably meticulous skills as a forensic pathologist, Benton’s study on criminal psychology at Harvard, Lucy’s vast technological skills and Marino’s bulldogged-ness and police experience to tie it all together.


Mixed in with the facts are the fascinating and complex personalities of the four lead characters. What once was a quartet made in heaven now bears the scars of many shared trials and tribulations. Dr. Kay Scarpetta is becoming unnerved in every way…almost to the point of paranoia. The murders she is investigating are brutal and abhorrent, affecting her in ways that surprise the seasoned professional. Lucy, who is more secretive and self destructive than ever, won’t even see the aunt who raised her; Benton, who is living and working up in Boston, is keeping secrets from her; and Marino seems to have gone off the deep end, becoming obsessed with his new biker persona and is even more belligerent than he was when he was a cop. To send him further over the edge, Scarpetta’s intern at the Academy is stealing Marino’s fire and taking credit where credit is not due. Throw in the fact that somehow, some way, someone has broken into Lucy’s communications system and is accessing classified information.


Unlike many serial novels, Predator is exciting and complete as a stand alone. You’ll still feel like you’re in on the inside. However, the book does leave us with a lot of unanswered questions and unresolved situations…enough that you’ll want to grab the next book the day it hits the shelves. Scarpetta and her cronies will get under your skin and make you beg for more.