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I've read a couple of Cornwell's books now but have only started getting in to them lately. I was a bit disappointed by the first I read, Red Mist, which was a more recent one; Book Of The Dead has bought my opinion of Cornwell up as I found it to be quite an intricate and absorbing read.
Cornwell is a very popular crime writer and has lots of books behind her to show for her experience and expertise in the genre. Some appear to have a key character and timeline but I managed to pick Book Of The Dead up and follow it perfectly fine without much background knowledge or having read the books 'in order'.
Book Of The Dead introduces us to protagonist Kay Scarpetta, a much loved Cornwell character. Scarpetta, the amazing pathologist and crime expert she is, has moved from Florida to Charleston in South Carolina to open a private forensic pathology lab and practice. It houses the highest in technological advances and sound of the best minds in death investigation and crime scene analysis. So, when a dead body turns up under mysterious circumstances and there's a killer on the loose but no clues to hunt him/her down, Scarpetta is called in.
Drew Martin, a 16 year old tennis starlet is murdered in Rome whilst holidaying with friends. She's found with her eyes filled with sand and superglued shut. A woman from a hugely extravagant and expensive beach home in Florida goes missing, most likely murdered, but there's no body at first. An abused young boy turns up having been dumped in marshland. What starts as Scarpetta becoming involved in a tennis star's death, turns in to something far more complex. That is, when we consider the parallel storyline.
Benton, Scarpetta's other half, is a psychologist undertaking a research project that involves a rather temperamental and controversial talk show host, Dr Self. As the story unfolds, it seems that Dr Self may have had contact with a man claiming to be a killer, possibly affiliated with Drew Martin after she appeared on Dr Self's chat show. The question is, how does Dr Self fit in to this, and are these seemingly unrelated deaths somehow indeed related?
The title of the book, and the importance of this, is uncovered throughout the plot development as we learn it refers to a morgue log book. Similary, the importance of different characters, different events and such all begin to link up, to become clearer and to start to make more sense. It flowed relatively well in this respect, uncovering and providing explanations here and there, bit by bit. That doesn't mean, however, that it was always very clear to understand. Sometimes the progressions didn't seem all that logical or realistic, which was impacted upon by the character development.
The premise was definitely original, mingling twists and turns here and there to keep it fresh and interesting. I definitely didn't know what to expect or what could happen, which is always a good thing because that makes it a crime mystery. As I've said, it unfolds well and this makes it more readable also. There's a good degree unknowns to begin with and Cornwell creates a chilling enough atmosphere to draw us in and make us want to find out what's going to happen next. Having said this, I didn't always find it that easy, or realistic, to follow. Certain things seemed to be quite a stretch of the imagination and rather protracted, which had a knock on negative effect on the overall pace of the book. At times it seemed to slow down too much, bogged down a bit by a convoluted turn of events that weren't particularly clear to follow. Overall, the difficulty in understanding or believing in characters and events really dampened by enjoyment of it, making it less easy to pick up and get stuck in to.
The characters were fairly well developed, even though I thought there were points were character depth and relationship links could have been more thoroughly covered to increase our identification with them. I enjoyed reading about, for instance, Lucy and Marino, who have featured in other Scarpetta novels, and the recognisable names give an additional frame of reference and appeal towards wanting to read more about them. I don't think it really puts you at a big disadvantage if you haven't read other Scarpetta novels, but having done so just gives you that little bit extra investment in the novel. There were, however, points where I felt characters, behaviours and events were a little unbelievable, which could have been improved by having greater depth and more a more logical premise. In this way, the premise and characters hindered each other because there wasn't as much realism or empathy as there could have been
Further praise can be found on the front cover from the Sunday Express : 'No one is better than Cornwell'. I'm not sure I'd necessarily agree, but she's still a good contender when it comes to a crime thriller with this novel. She uses her biological, pathology, criminology knowledge well, making this an intelligent and detailed read by creating a greater sense of grittiness and authenticity. Unfortunately, this didn't come across as well as it could have in Book Of The Dead.
Overall, I'm not sure I would recommend this; both first time readers and fans of Cornwell may be disappointed as it wasn't as strong, logical or emotionally evocative and gripping as it could have been. Having said that, I really enjoy crime novels and the mystery and psychology aspects still gave me something to enjoy, even if it's not something I'd give an overly positive review for or read again.
387 pages over 23 chapters
RRP £7.99, selling on Amazon for £4.
Book Of The Dead is the second novel by Patricia Cornwell that I've read recently and the only reason I've read them is because they were lent to me by a friend and I had nothing else to read. The previous one I read called Predator seems to be the book that precedes this one so I thought I would at least have some clue what was happening this time and where the team were based and why. Wrong.
Book Of The Dead sees Dr Kay Scarpetta (Forensic Pathologist), her niece Lucy (rich, high tech fan who ran the Academy they worked at before), Pete Marino (ex cop who works with Kay) and the receptionist Rose move to Charleston to start a new little practice there. Confused? I was too, in the last book they worked at the private Academy in Florida that was owned by Lucy and now they have all uprooted themselves to open a tiny practice out in the sticks with seemingly very little money. So far it doesn't make sense.
Scarpetta and her partner (of the lover variety) Benton Wesley (some kind of criminal psychologist I think) are in Rome at the beginning of this book investigating the murder of tennis star Drew Martin. Don't ask me why they are in Rome after downsizing to such a small out of the way practice but they are.
Once they return to Charleston they also have the murder of a young boy to investigate and a wealthy woman who is killed in her beach mansion. Naturally the bodies stack up and somehow it's all related.
Now I really thought I'd be able to keep up this time since I'd only recently been introduced to all the characters but sadly it didn't help me much. The plotlines jump all over the place and some take so long to re-emerge you've completely forgotten who was involved and what the author is referring to. Others drone on mercilessly never seeming to go anywhere. It's just so erratic it's impossible to stay with the plot.
The characters all seem to be very two dimensional and some of them openly dislike each other to the point where I wondered why they'd all upped sticks and moved together in the first place! The main characters that do get along seem to do so with very little in the way of a real relationship or any genuine closeness. It's a very confusing and unrealistic situation to place these people together at a new practice when they just wouldn't have all moved together in the first place.
And why have they moved from the swish, plush Academy in Florida in the first place? We don't know and the subject is never broached or explained to us so we have no clue why they left all that brand new equipment and brilliant facilities behind either. This just doesn't make any sense!
The murders are dotted through the book and seem to have very little in common except we are privy to the murderers thoughts a few times. There's no way you could guess who the killer is but frankly you're so confused trying to just stay with the story in general you don't have time to even try and guess!
Dr Marilyn Self features again in this book, she hates Scarpetta and will do anything to cause her problems and bizarrely she seems to have gone from being a famous T.V psychologist in the last book to being seriously mentally disturbed in this one and again it's a huge leap from where Cornwell left us.
I'm struggling to explain just how confusing this book is, nothing follows on as you'd expect, and hope, it would and the author just seems to be trying to make her books slick and fast but is failing miserably and they end up erratic and utterly baffling but not in a good way. I don't believe I've ever read any of Cornwell's early work but her recent offerings are odd to say the least.
I previously stated after reading Predator that perhaps reading these books in sequence would make them easier to follow but I now know that's not the case as this one wasn't helped by the fact I'd read the one before it with the exception of me knowing the main character's names! I really don't know what the author is doing and I found it very hard to follow the plots and keep up with who everyone else was or why they were involved.
I can't recommend this as it's just too "out there" to make it a good thriller, there's nothing wrong with making a book fast but at the expense of decent plots and believeable characters it doesn't work. If I haven't put you off the book is available new from Amazon for £5.59 or used from 1p but just one star from me.
Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta was the first crime novel character I really got into. From the first book in the series I read (Body Farm or Cruel and Unusal as I recall) I was hooked and read all the following book religiously. I enjoyed reading about characters I felt I knew and the combination of this and both scientific detail and mystery was a winner.
Back to 'Book of the Dead'. Scarpetta has moved out to Charleston and set up private practise with Marino, Lucy and Rose. Benton, now left the FBI and working in a private hospital is engaged to Scarpetta early on in the story. However, they still don't live together or even in the same city.
The plot begins with the murder of a young tenis star in Rome. She was forced to sit in a freezing cold bath tub for maybe days before her murder. Benton and Scarpetta are called over to help in the case by the Italian boy wonder cop working the investigation. I shaln't got further into the plot as I don't want to spoil it and/or confuse everyone. I will just give my opinion on the book.
Reading the book, I was almost permenantly confused. I felt it was extremely disjointed and didn't fit in with the stories gone before or with how the characters you thought you knew would act. For example, Marino is written as a horrible brute and anfter liking him in previous books I don't enjoy what amounts to being wrong about a person. It throws you off balance.
Another issue with 'Book of the Dead' was the actual story. It was very far fetched. Also there was no scientific detail about the crime solving. Basically the book is devoid of all the features I previously enjoyed about this series. Very disappointing. The last problem I am going to highlight is that it is supposed to be part of a series. This book kept referring to events that I couldn't remember. I don't know if they're just not mentioned in previous books or that they were but in such a non descript way that they made no imprint on my memory but I didn't like it.
If you're particularly into Kay Scarpetta books, read Book of the Dead to convince yourself but it's not a spectacular read by any standards.
And so it is.... the final curtain and what long-time fans can only be praying is Kay Scarpetta's swan song!! Certainly for me, this novel signifies Cornwell's last chance to make things right and prove to me that this is not a series that has far out-lived it's sell-by date. So, the big question on everybody's lips is has she managed to pull this one out of the proverbial bag?
The answer sadly is a resounding NO!! The votes are in, the results have been counted and the opinion from this quarter is that Kay Scarpetta- you have been evicted from the Sparkymarky bookshelf!! Now lets have a look at BOOK OF THE DEADS best bits.... oh no, thats right there aren't any!!
Never have I felt so compelled to write such a damning, scathing review as this. Set two years after PREDATOR, this newest thriller which bizarrely still managed to scrape the bestseller lists despite being truly awful, sees Scarpetta now relocating to Charleston where she has opened a unique forensic pathology practice; unique, one assumes, because Marino, with no medical background whatsoever, seems to double as her assisstant in autopsies!!! Once again a series of murders, which at first defy connection, turn out to be linked together bringing together a familiar cast of characters who all seem to now despise each other despite everything they have been through together. Mind you, they have all without exception become totally unlikeable in their own right so I suppose it is only fair that they have come to hate each other almost as much as Cornwell's dying legion of fans must do by now.
The novel starts off quite well; Benton and Scarpetta have been seconded to Rome to assist Italian Policia with the murder of an international tennis star whose pathology results seem terribly at odds with each other. Apparently her stomach contents do not appear to match up with her bodys' time of death and no one seems able to pin pont the fact that this is largely because prior to death, the victim was kept in a bath of freezing cold water and forcibly fed large amounts of vodka (at least the killer has taste) that slowed her metabolism. Labelled The Sandman- the killer removed her eyes, filled the sockets with sand then glued her eyelids shut- he appears to have some kind of connection to the War in Iraq though his mental trauma is like no case of post-traumatic shock I ever heard of and by the time this revelation is made early on, I WAS ALREADY STARTING TO GET BORED........
Lucy, who surprise surprise funds Scarpetta's new business, seems to be coping reasonably better with her tumour (at least she now has a reason for being an annoying little bitch) but is less than thrilled at her aunts engagement to back-from-the-grave-long-time-lover, Benton Wesley, and hell-bent on finishing what is left of Kay's relationship, professional or otherwise, with Marino. Marino, to be fair, really has it coming though in this book as his behavior has sunk even lower, he has a new even-tackier-than-the-last-one girlfriend and is this novel's self-destructive matyr instead of Kay's niece!! Even for him, smoking in the morgue and allowing his girlfriend to unzip bodybags containing corpses' seems something of a low point and it really strains credubility that someone of his standing and experience would exhibt such total dis-regard for decent behaviour. Fans are supposed to believe that his obsession with Scarpetta and his bitter jealousy at her engagement have so damaged his character that he no longer cares about anything or anyone. One scene in which he pulls a gun on a guy in a bar-fight so stinks of unbelivability that it threatens to undo everything that once was right about this series in one foul swoop!!
And that is fundamentally the problem. There has become too much focus on these individual's ever-more fracturing lives and their destructive behaviours and relationships than on the crimes themselves which are supposed to be what these novels are about. Once again, nearly 500 pages of top-heavy plot are betrayed by an ending that is so swift that it is over almost before you know whats happening and where most thrillers are a slow seduction of the reader before the final climax, this is a drunken knee-trembler in the stationary cupboard with a wham-bam-no-thank-you-ma'am!!!
Like DAY OF CONFESSION (see one of my other, recent reviews), the parts of this novel set in Rome are a joy to read; partly because they bring back happy memories of the 10 days I spent there on my honeymoon and partly because I recognise some of the places and street names featured but this part of the book, and the best part I felt, is woefully short. Although Benton's "death" is actually mentioned this time, once again continuity seems to take a back-seat and there is very little resemblence to any of the characters fans thought they knew from previous novels. The Forensics Academy from the last novel is suddenly non-existent and Rudy is still AWOL with no explanation. Even his inclusion in this novel might have raised the stakes a little but as it is, there is very little here to recommend to anyone- be it old fans or new fans alike.
In point of fact, BOOK OF THE DEAD is a very easily forgettable novel with an over-complicated plot. Psychiatrist, Marilyn Self, a bit-player from the previous novel, here has her role post-humourously extended and plays a major part in the proceedings and that feels like a mistake because she was not that likeable in the previous book and now is just one further nail in Scarpetta's coffin.
It is beginning to look as though the only way Cornwell is going to stop writing Scarpetta is if fans vote with their wallet and stop buying the books but seing as how this latest installment still sold highly and was in the top 10 paperbacks a few weeks ago, this seems a tad unlikely to happen. Judging from the widespread condemnation of this novel though on both here and on AMAZON, perhaps there is a slim hope that either Cornwell or her publishers might get the message and say enough is enough. I know I said I was reluctant to give up on this author that I once enjoyed but this book, for me, is the staw that broke the camel's back and, though I have independent novel, HIGH RISK, on my TBR pile, I shan't be reading anymore of this series and my last few novels of hers will be swiftly going on my swaps list on the site READITSWAPIT from whence I obtained this travesty!!
I think I need to try someone new; thankfully I have a couple of Tess Geritsens' books to try....to be honest, what have I got to lose after this?
Book of the Dead is the fifteenth novel in the Scarpetta series, written by Patricia Cornwell. For those who are not familiar with the stories, Kay Scarpetta is a trusted Forensic Pathologist who is extremely unfortunate enough to keep running accross numerous phsycopathic murderers. Luckily, with the help from her fiery but brilliant, millionaire neice, ex-detective and chauventistic side-kick Marino and ex-FBI profiler & long term partner Benton, she usually manages to come good and save the day. Even if there are a few life changing hiccups along the way.
From the very first line we are catapulted into the mind of the killer. It is obvious he is above average intelligence and extremely dangerous. He calmy and coldly describes the torture of his victim and her inevitable end, he is completely without remorse.
Several days later, the body of Drew Martin, a 16 year old tennis prodigy is found savagely mutilated and dumped in Rome. Kay and Benton are brought in to help the Italian law enforcement, specifically, Captain Otto Poma, who seems to have a 'thing' for Kay . This of course does nothing to endear him to Benton, who is struggling to understand Kay's commitment , or lack of it, to their relationship.
Back home in Charleston, life does not seem to be much better. Kay has had to downsize considerably while still fiercely trying to protect her privacy. When an overambitious and very creepy funeral home attendant tries to deliver a body to her home it sparks a chain of events which make her question her safety. Against the wishes of her nearest and dearest she opts to trust a near stranger, but is this a huge mistake?
Marino is also having problems. His mood continues to deteriorate and he has serious issues with his self worth. His choice in women hasn't got any better either but he is just too blind with jealousy and self loathing to realise Shandy, the new girlfriend has major problems and jealousy issues of her own and a disturbing interest in one of Scarpettas cases, the abuse and death of a little boy. Her teasing and goading leads him to make terrible mistakes in the morgue. When it becommes evident that the morgue ledger, or the 'book of the dead' has been tampered with Kay and Marino's fragile friendship takes a serious beating, but is it one Kay can forgive this time?
Meanwhile Benton finds himself grudgingly involved with treating ex t.v physco-analyst Dr Self who we have met before in the last novel, Predator . Dr Self is dillusional and fueled by her hatred of Kay Scarpetta. It soon becomes clear she has ties to some of the victims, but is that all?
I began reading the Scarpetta novels about eight years ago and was quickly hooked. I bought and read all these books up to date and since have eagerly awaited the release of each new hardback. The last couple though I have found disappointing. The characters are beginning to stale. Kay's tight laced ways are starting to annoy me, after all she has been through you would think she would learn to live life a little! Her neice, Lucy was fun whilst she was dealing with all the changes growing up brings, and although being intense and hot headed, I feel her character could be so much more. You may notice I haven't mentioned her above, because I don't feel there was much worth writing about unfortunately. Marino always has been (and still is) homophobic and chauvenistic but has also become depressing. I want the old Marino back! On the good side, Cornwell is as descriptive as ever and some of her writing, especially through the mind of the killer as he described his past was quite haunting.
Only if you are a die hard Scarpetta fan. You can read this without reading the previous novels, but the history & relationships between the main characters will be lost, making it worse. And, there is always the hope it is just a weak link and the next book will be better! I would recommend reading the previous novels though, as I think they are much better. Although the earlier books lost me a little with all the medical and technical jargon, I still found them easier to read.
Released 23/10/07 in hardback, 416 pages by Putnam. RRP £18.99, although currently avaliable for £9.99 new from Amazon.
For info on this book and all the others by Patricia Cornwell, visit www.patriciacornwell.com.
This review is also posted on Ciao.
~ Book of the Dead ~
The book of the dead is a phrase that originally came about from ancient Egyptian Funeral text.
However in this instance, it is the title of the latest book to come out of the Patricia Cornwall stable.
To be honest, I never would have read this book, or attempted to read it except that I was given a preview copy by a friend in America, and I have to say my initial response is - the book is another dead end from the author and another disappointment.
~ A little about Patricia Cornwall and the book series ~
Patricia Cornwall is an American Author who has a series of novels featuring Dr Kay Scarpetta. She has likened her life to that of Kay Scarpetta in many respects, with both Miami-born, divorced, and worked in forensic departments. However, Cornwell herself worked at a crime lab in Virginia as a technical writer and computer analyst, but not in any official medical or forensics capacity.
In the first novels, Kay Scarpetta is a Chief Medical Examiner in the Richmond, the State of Virginia.
In events detailed in the book 'The Last Precinct' Kay Scarpetta resigns and she locates to Florida where she becomes a private forensic consultant.
Kay Scarpetta does return to Virginia for one novel (Trace), but in novel 'Predator' she becomes the head of the National Forensic Academy in Florida.
However in this book, Scarpetta has relocated as Freelance Examiner to Charleston, South Carolina.
~ Recurring Characters ~
Lucy is Kay's niece, who is first seen in the novel 'Postmortem ' and she eventually makes a great deal of money with her computer skills. This in turn leads her to setting up the National Forensic Academy, in Florida.
In the earlier books, Pete Marino worked as a homicide detective for the Richmond police department, where he rose to the rank of Captain. He then joins Kay at the National Forensic Academy after retiring from the police force in Predator.
Benton is an FBI profiler and Kay's lover (first while still with his wife, and then eventually moving in with Kay).
In the book 'Point of Origin' Benton appears to be killed, however he then reappears in the novel 'Blow Fly' having faked his death to try and capture a seriel killer.
~ The Story ~
Kay Scarpetta relocates to Charleston, South Carolina to launch a private forensics lab of her own.
She is asked to consult on the murder of a U.S. tennis star, Drew Martin whose body, which was mutilated, was found in Rome. She then works with the Italian Carabinieri (A branch of their police force that is both civilian and military, their elite force as it were), and Scarpetta's lover, forensic psychologist Benton Wesley.
All struggle to work out anything about the crime, but then eventually Kay discovers some connections between Drew Martin's murder, and the body of an unidentified South Carolina boy.
The link begins to place evidence in the direction of Kay Scarpetta's old nemesis - the maniacal psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Self.
~ Overall impressions ~
Dead boring is the first thing I think of. A lengthy, vivid scene during which a young tennis star is slowly and brutally tortured sets up the story and initially I was hopeful that while this wasn't her greatest book, it was an improvement over more recent publications.
I was to be left disappointed once again. As the story begins to unfold, so do the same problems I've found in the later books. We are still given the switch from first to third person narrative, and it just pushes such abrupt shifts in points of view, it slows the momentum. You are also floundering in excessive forensic minutiae that just makes you want to shut your brain off because most of it just flies over your head unless you have some sort of education or real interest in Forensics' and so can follow it all.
As I've said, the dialogue shifts and we're given occasional forays into the killer's mind that often don't seem necessary and therefore are superfluous to the whole plotline.
All the characters we grew to care about in the earlier books - Scarpetta, Wesley, Pete, and Lucy - continue to revel in anger, jealousy, and pettiness, as well as the astounding situations or thought process that just beggars belief at times.
At one point you find repetition of some words almost "unbelievable", and you wonder who on earth was editing the book to allow it to happen! Several rules of writing are not just broken by Cornwall in this book but shattered into tiny shards.
~ Final thoughts ~
Only die-hard fans can surely find anything to enjoy about this book, and even then I am sure this will have some leaving and looking for alternatives out there (of which there are some really good writers in this genre). I would say don't waste your money. If I could give negative stars in this instance I would because it is so dire.
I'm afraid this is a writer living on her past glories, and a publisher who is doing the same, with no real attention to detail where it should be given - and far too much attention where it doesn't help one iota.
Personally I am no longer going to even bother with any future publications from Patricia Cornwall, and just thank god I didn't have to pay for this book. Off to the charity shop it goes!
If you really want to still try and buy the book it is currently priced at £9.49 on Amazon.co.uk - However I simply wouldn't waste my money.
This is my review also found on Ciao.