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Fearing that she is about to be sacked as Virginia's Chief Medical Examiner, Kay Scarpetta moves to Florida, where she takes up an appointment as a consultant. However, she can run, but she can't hide. Jean-Baptiste Chandonne, the serial killer she helped put away, is still able to reach her and her friends through a series of letters that seem to link him with a murder in Louisiana. The knowledge that his twin brother is still free and just as dangerous as Jean-Baptiste does not help. Contacting her niece, Lucy and Pete Marino, her former colleague, the three try and piece together just what is going on, with the help of Louisiana cop, Nic Robillard, who has her own baggage. Can they catch the killer? And just what is Jean-Baptiste up to?
To be honest, I have given up on Patricia Cornwell's books in recent years - they have generally become too technical and complicated for my liking. However, I was given this audio book as a gift, so I thought it was worth a go. I have now reached a decision. I will never read or listen to another book in this series. I generally find audio books relaxing; in this case, I got so annoyed by what I was hearing that I couldn't sleep for hours!
The main disadvantage with this audio book has nothing to do with the narrator and all to do with the fact that the story is a bad one. When the Kay Scarpetta books first started out, I loved them. They were fresh and original and Kay was a woman with whom I could identify. Not any more. The problem is that Cornwell has run out of ideas. Jean-Baptiste Chandonne has appeared in several of the books now and although his link to Scarpetta is explained by an obsession with the woman who has thwarted him at every turn, it just isn't believable any more and bores me rigid. Even worse is that it turns out that a friend of Kay's, believed dead, isn't and practically everyone knows except Kay (I'm not giving away the plot here - we find out this friend is still alive very early on in the book). This is the second time in the series that the author has used this tactic and it is frankly now wearing thin.
Although I don't dislike Scarpetta as a character, she has stopped growing and has become a sort of permanent fixture that it is necessary to put up with if you want to read the book. Her dedication to the job and her niece Lucy has grown boring. The ploy of uprooting her from Virginia should have been an excuse to give her a fresh start with new characters and relationships; sadly Cornwell has let her carry on in the same vein. By the end of the book, I honestly couldn't care if she lived or died.
Even worse is the decision in this and the past few books to make Lucy a more central character. As a genius at just about everything she does, she is possibly the most annoying character I have ever come across. She is a whizz at computers, can shoot like an angel, can fly anything she gets her hands on and knows just about all there is to know. Cornwell's attempt to make the reader sympathise with her through her inability to have a solid relationship falls flat and just makes her seem rather dull. In my opinion, her characterisation has turned what was a good series into a farce.
Cornwell's saving grace, Pete Marino, who is an overweight tobacco-smoking, alcohol-drinking slob and therefore immensely likeable (to my mind at least), sadly hardly features in this book, being eclipsed by Wonderwoman Lucy. He is one of the characters on the case, but for anyone that is new to the series, they will find out very little about him here. I am, of course, referring what I know of the abridged version of the book - in the original version, he may feature more heavily.
Lorelei King is the narrator. Having heard and enjoyed her reading some of the Sue Grafton books, I thought she would be quite good here. She is able to change the tone of her voice depending on whether she is speaking as a man or woman - from that point of view, she does do a good job. However, she decided to read Lucy's speeches in quite a high-pitched, grating voice, which just added to my annoyance of the whole story.
The final straw is the style of writing. For some reason, Cornwell decided to write this book in the present tense and the third person. Many writers have tried this in the past and it has worked well. In this case, it is highly off-putting. I'm sure the idea is to fill the reader with a sense of urgency, but it didn't work for me and just sounded silly when I heard Lorelei King reading it. Quite why she decided to write this book in this way I don't know - certainly from what I can remember, none of the other books are written in the present tense. It may be that if I had read the book rather than heard it, it would have been less annoying, but somehow I doubt it.
I have the CD version of this audio book, which is an abridged version of the book (thank goodness - or I probably wouldn't have finished it). The narration covers three CDs and lasts for about four hours.
I think it is a great shame that Patricia Cornwell's books have taken a nosedive in quality. If it was just one or two books, I woud probably give her another go, but the last five or six of her books that I have read have been more or less unbearable and I won't be attempting any more, gift or not. Lorelei King does the best she can with the narration, but no-one could save this book from being awful. Seriously, give this one a wide berth. However, if you really want to read it, you could do worse than listening to this abridged version rather than having to plough through the whole thing.
This audio book (3 CDs) is available for £8.49 from play.com.
Dr Kay Scarpetta has left Virginia in quest of peace but instead finds herself drawn into baffling, horrific murders in Florida, where she becomes entangled in an international conspiracy that confronts her with the shock of her life.