Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book of The Dead - Patricia Cornwell

The "book of the dead" is the morgue log, the ledger in which all cases are entered by hand. For Kay Scarpetta, however, it is about to have a new meaning. Fresh from her bruising battle with a psychopath in Florida, Scarpetta decides it's time for a change of pace-not only personally and professionally, but geographically. Moving to the historic city of Charleston, South Carolina, she opens a unique private forensic pathology practice, one in which she and her colleagues-including Pete Marino and her niece, Lucy-offer expert crime-scene investigation and autopsies to communities that lack local access to competent death investigation and modern technology.

It seems like an ideal situation, until the new battles start-with local politicians, with entrenched interests, with someone whose covert attempts at sabotage are clearly meant to run her out of town. And that's even before the murders and other violent deaths begin.

A young man from a well-known family jumps off a water tower. A woman is found ritualistically murdered in her multi-million-dollar beach home. The body of an abused young boy is discovered dumped in a desolate marsh. Meanwhile, in distant New England, problems with a prominent patient at a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital begin to hint at interconnections that are as hard to imagine as they are horrible.

It's been a while since I picked up a Scarpetta book with some enthusiasm. Lately the series seems to have lost what appealed to me. I used to reading about Kay, her cases, the people she met through her work. But in later books I have noticed that I don't feel as engaged, I haven't enjoyed what she has been true and what's been happening to some of the secondary characters.

In this book the story opens with a torture scene, it's one of the first times I recall being uncomfortable like this while reading a thriller and while I can't entirely fault the author for wanting to start with a shocking scene it seems to me that she is trying a bit too hard to write horror scenes, murder is awful yes but maybe we don't need to read about every detail about the killing to realise that. Anyway, the story starts with the murder of a young tennis champion - Drew Martin. She is murdered in Italy and Kay and Benton Wesley are invited to analyse the case. After their return Kay realises that Drew's murder is connected with the murder of a 5 year old boy that she has in the morgue and as the action progresses we see that more people are going to die if the ones who have some much needed information don't start revealing it.

The plot was ok, it wasn't a page turner and sometimes it got a bit confusing with so many characters busy playing power games and being connected with one another but it was ok and Cornwell still has a way of writing atmosphere that keeps me on the edge of my seat. But once again there's someone trying to harm Kay Scarpetta, I wish that didn't happen so often because it's becoming too unreal and it's kind of disturbing (let someone please murder Dr Self soon, yes?). Then there's Marino, I used to like Marino but what is Cornwell trying to do to him? Even when he is being obnoxious I can't help but feeling sorry for him because he is so vulnerable and so easily manipulated, it's like she is destroying him. I'm still reading the books because I liked Kay and Marino but I like them less with each book... On the other hand I really liked Lucy in this book, she seems to have found some balance in a difficult situation and it was really nice seeing her like that.

I can't say I'm looking forward to the next book although I'll probably read it sometime in the future, I don't think I'm ready to drop the characters yet but I am getting there...

Grade: 3.5/5


  1. I really liked earlier books but I think it started to go downhill after Benton Wesley's "death".

  2. Yeah, this is the book where Marino completely loses his sh*t. The good news, is that Cornwell gets him back on track and he's really great in the next book - Scarpetta. The bad news is that Lucy goes back to being...well...Lucy. But yeah, I agree with you - I actually liked her in this book.

    I *liked* the next book - Scarpetta - more than this one. And in fact, I thought it was an improvement over the last several. However, the one after that, The Scarpetta Factor, was so bad that I think I'm finally ready to break up with the series. There's a new one coming out near the end of 2010 and I am determined to remain strong!

  3. Elysium, I wish Benton had stayed dead!

    Wendy, well I like Marino more than Lucy so maybe I start the next one sooner than I thought. I guess Cornwell just couldn't have everyone being good in the same book uh? And The Scarpetta Factor sounds really terrible...

  4. You are a better person than I am, I gave up on this series years ago..I think with Trace. The earlier books are freaking awesome..then it went downhill and I said forget it. I agree with your first commenter too.

  5. Hey Kris, I have a hard time letting go of characters that were once favourites... since Wendy liked the next book I decided that I will at least read that one and see how it goes.

  6. I started Scarpetta today and thought of revising this review to remember what had happened. I can't believe it's been almost 3 years ...


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