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Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
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A-ScarpettaScarpetta is the 17th addition to the award-winning Kay Scarpetta series, after Book of the Dead (2007). Patricia Cornwell is also known for Portrait of a Killer (2002), a controversial nonfiction account of the Jack the Ripper murders.

The Story: When Oscar Bane, a patient in Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric prison ward, asks for her, Dr. Kay Scarpetta leaves her South Carolina medical examiner practice to work with the NYPD. At first, Scarpetta doesn’t know whether to believe Oscar’s claims of innocence in the "Midget Murder"—the murder of his girlfriend, a female dwarf—since his injuries (which, he claims, were sustained during the murder) look self-inflicted. But as more violent murders follow, Scarpetta, her forensic psychologist husband, and her niece start to investigate the deaths. Their journey soon takes them through New York City, cyberspace, and the uncomfortable depths of Scarpetta’s life and career, as well as the human mind.
Putnam. 512 pages. $27.95. ISBN:

Omaha World-Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"The book’s last quarter careens from surprise revelations to a thrilling confrontation, as Cornwell wraps things up with a master’s touch." John Keenan

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"When it comes to the forensic sciences, nobody can touch Cornwell, who analyzes cyberspace crime as effortlessly as she walks us through cutting-edge lab technology and elucidates clinical obsession. Trouble is, Scarpetta no longer travels without her posse—her husband, who’s a forensic psychologist; her niece, who’s a computer genius; as well as Pete Marino, a former cop who’s in deep disgrace after his vile behavior in Book of the Dead—and it takes the first 100 pages of this overlong narrative just to explain (none too convincingly) how they all happen to be in New York at the same time, working on the same case." Marilyn Stasio

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2.5 of 5 Stars
"If you’re only a lukewarm fan of the series about the crime-fighting medical examiner—or you don’t know who Scarpetta is—this is not the book with which you should begin. … The book offers a satisfying conclusion with a mostly unexpected twist, but Scarpetta falls short of some of the series’ better, earlier efforts." Amanda St. Amand

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"There’s some merit in belting one out for the fans every now and then, but readers will need the forensic science habit of a CSI addict—or a real weak spot for Patricia Cornwell’s recurring characters—to fully embrace Scarpetta. … Cornwell’s sizable cast and their dizzying entanglements are bogged down in manufactured mysteries, their overlapping plots clumsily intertwined to challenge the wits of her heroine." Clayton Moore

Guardian (UK) 0.5 of 5 Stars
"In a perfect illustration of the law of diminishing returns, the protagonists of this series have become caricatures of their original, sharply delineated selves, and the serial-killer-cum-stalker plot, once fresh and exciting, is now formulaic and stale. The formerly high-octane prose is leaden, repetitive and bulked out with techno-speak and brand names." Laura Wilson

Critical Summary

Critics agreed that readers familiar with Cornwell’s series will find Scarpetta a weak addition; novice audiences will certainly want to skip over this one and start with Postmortem (1990), Cornwell’s award-winning debut. Although Scarpetta is not one of the better entries to date, the thriller contains Cornwell’s meticulous attention to detail (from autopsies to investigations) and edge-of-your-seat plotting. However, reviewers cited too much backstory, overly complex twists, and only mediocre characterization. The Rocky Mountain News even accused Scarpetta of becoming "something of a cipher," while the Guardian found nothing to like at all. The bright spot? A thrilling, unpredictable ending.