Body of evidence
Crackerjack medical officer returns in Cornwell’s latest whodunit
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/01/2022 (202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dr. Kay Scarpetta has just become chief medical officer in Virginia and already she’s in big trouble — for spooking the tourists by investigating a covered-up serial killer, infuriating her despicable boss, riling her treacherous staff, maybe attracting unwanted attention from American psychopath serial killers or even (shudder) Russian hitpersons.
Pause for breath.
Scarpetta almost dies when she drinks a Bordeaux that had been a gift from the head of Interpol, laced with an opioid deadlier than carfentanyl. Shortly thereafter she gets summonsed to the situation room in the White House for something that’s not fair to tell you about, advising the president personally on matters most mysterious, right before her scummy boss orders her into his office to be fired for being more competent than he.
The autopsy of the title? Not fair to talk much about that, but hey, it’s a doozy.
All of this over a couple of days, starting with the murder of a woman terrified for her life, living in a fortress, working for one super-top-secret government-contracts high-tech firm after another. Suspicious much?
Wipes you out just reading about Scarpetta’s days.
Whoa, hold on, regular readers of American crime writer Patricia Cornwell are saying — that Virginia job, she left that under a cloud like totally forever ago. Is this the re-release of an old Scarpetta adventure, or maybe it’s pumping out a manuscript Cornwell had in the back of the filing cabinet?
No, this is the 25th Scarpetta novel, but it’s the first one in five years of what had been an annual series.
A lot happened in that five years. Yes, Scarpetta is back as chief medical examiner in Virginia, but her boss loathes her and has spies among Scarpetta’s staff who undermine her every step.
Her creepy husband Benton Wesley, the criminal profiler, has now left the internecine skullduggery of the FBI for the sinister machinations of the Secret Service. Her niece Lucy — a seriously unbalanced superwoman whose technical and physical skills are off the charts — lost her wife Janet and their adopted child to COVID.
Lucy is now running a private security firm in league with Marino, the former cop whose photo sits beside the word “tough” in the dictionary. Marino is married to Scarpetta’s sister Dorothy, whose superpower appears to be trying to busybodily ferret out everyone’s personal business.
The trouble with the last few Scarpetta books was that no matter how fascinating the demise of the corpse lying on Scarpetta’s examining table, it soon became apparent that it was the work of Carrie Grethen, the sociopathic genius who was Scarpetta’s nemesis and who was forever trying to lure Lucy to the dark side.
And no matter how many times Scarpetta sent Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls, she came back. Is her Moriarty in Autopsy? Not saying.
Meantime, Cornwell wrote two books, Spin and Quantum, about NASA cop Captain Calli Chase and her whackjob twin sister Carme, a test pilot and all-around superhuman whose evil side shows up too often for comfort. Calli is both a cop and a beyond-brilliant quantum physicist, trying to thwart — well, apocalyptic stuff. The point was, really, it was still Kay and Lucy, with niftier hardware.
Now Scarpetta is back, and the excitement and intrigue never stop. Scarpetta has the Oval Office and Interpol HQ on speed dial, but she also has an awful lot of people out to get her.
Autopsy is an entertaining yarn that doesn’t slow down for you to have time to ask questions. Let’s just say that the no-hints autopsy suggests a real humdinger of a plot, but, alas, Cornwell opts to follow other plot threads. And leaves so much to be resolved in a paragraph or two of the epilogue.
There might be better ways to spend 25 bucks, but putting Autopsy on hold at the library? Yeah, go for it.
Retired Free Press reporter Nick Martin naively wishes that, if Scarpetta and her crew are really the good guys, they’d pay a tad more attention to American laws and ethics as practiced by decent folk.