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I have only ever read one Patricia Cornwell novel and I did quite enjoy it, despite it having a few flaws, so when I began reading Cause Of Death, I was optimistic of a good read.
It is New Year's Eve and investigative reporter and keen diver, Ted Eddings has been found dead below the Elizabeth River's icy surface after diving in a restricted area of an inactive Naval shipyard. Ted was a favourite at the medical examiner's office.
Was Ted simply on a diving trip for pleasure, or probing around the inactive shipyard looking for a story amongst the naval ships which have been taken out of service?
And why did Scarpetta receive a phone call from someone reporting the death before the police were notified?
As the case is investigated, Scarpetta, her niece Lucy and police captain Pete Marino follow a trail of death to a well of violence as dark and deep as the water that swirled over Ted Eddings.
Cornwell has written many novels featuring American medical officer, Dr Kay Scarpetta, so this character is well known and well established with the many Cornwell fans who read her books.
Scarpetta is quite a complex character, although very interesting, and I suspect this is why Cornwell's books have became so popular, as the plots of both this novel and the previous one I read, are a little on the weak side in my opinion.
On both occasions it has been the character of Scarpetta that has kept me reading, not the actual plot.
This was particularly disappointing here as I thought the plot outline sounded great and I was sure I was in for a thrilling read.
The problem with the plot, in my opinion, is that it does not seem to have been well thought out. It is readable but certainly not unputdownable.
There are a couple of inconsistencies and some events are not covered fully and left unexplained. I also felt that it was not realistic enough.
This was not only because of the plot, but also because Scarpetta, her niece Lucy and lover Benton are like the three find-outers or something similar. You get the feeling that together they are experts on everything and can solve absolutely anything. They reminded me of an adult version of Enid Blyton's Famous Five!
The relationships between all the characters are interesting, with the closeness and subsequent tensions between them making for good reading at times, but I wouldn't say I was hooked at any time whilst reading this book. I found it quite easy to put down and come back to, despite the blurb on the back of the book telling me that Cosmopolitan magazine describe this book as a ' A one-sitting read'.
The story is told in the first person from Scarpetta's point of view, and whilst this makes for interesting reading as it helps you understand her character more, it does not help with the development of the other regular characters as you are always reading Scarpetta's thoughts.
As the main characters feature in other Cornwell books, I would guess that the more books you read, the more you learn and gain more knowledge about the characters other than Scarpetta.
There is also not really any insight into the 'bad guys' or their motives in this book, which again is quite frustrating. I can't help but feel that if more attention had been given to their reasons/motives then the storyline would have came across as more believable. It may well have turned a very average thriller into a very good one in my opinion.
Scarpetta, as the main character, is definitely what kept me reading here. She has been developed well by Cornwell who has hit on to a winning formula with her character. Scarpetta is certainly not without flaws, but this makes for an interesting character. She is passionate about her work and her tensions and anxieties are explored brilliantly by Cornwell.
If the plot had been more believable and as much effort put into it as is put into Scarpetta's character, then I would probably be awarding this book 4 or 5 stars. Sadly I can only give it three.
It hasn't put me off reading another Cornwell novel as I am now curious to know whether the plots are better in her other stories. If they are all like this one however, then I can't see myself reading many more. There are other authors around who can come up with a good, believable plot to match good characters.
Sadly, this thriller did not thrill me.
I struggled at first to find a suitable summary for this book as an opening paragraph so that those who could not be bothered to read the rest of my ramblings could move on to something more prosaic having already left me their 3p particularly when they realise the title is just false advertising looking to attract reads. The thing is at best this is a competent thriller, written to a fairly predictable formula that involves a character Im not impressed with and a couple of weak points in the plot which suggested a lack of planning and a rush to finish within the required 370 pages. Not really a glowing testimonial and it just about earns the three stars from me and a mild recommendation but do not pay anywhere near full price for it, library, book swap sites or the new and used section of Amazon are the places to go.
Cornwell is certainly a much published writer with a string of awards to her name so I have probably already annoyed some of her fan base, this book features one of her main characters Dr Kay Scarpetta an American medical officer and already the character is quite well established after a number of books so my starting with this one does mean that I know the outcome of some of her personal relationships featured in earlier works as the same characters have appeared in previous books with her.
Scarpetta is covering for a Dr Mant in Chesapeake and staying in his isolated beach house when she receives a call in the night supposedly from a police officer reporting a missing person in the Inactive Naval Shipyard. The body is being sought as they were scuba diving in the restricted area where naval ships are stored after being taken out of service after their own boat was found empty in the middle of the night.
When the body of the dead diver is recovered it is found to be that of a local investigative reporter who Scarpetta is familiar with and her suspicions are further aroused after discovering that the original call she received was not from the police and also the way she is treated by both local officers and the naval security when she arrives to recover and examine the body.
What starts out as an apparent simple drowning soon escalates into an international incident and sucks in both her niece Lucy and former colleagues and romantic interests for Scarpetta.
Overall this was a pretty good thriller and as I have never really watched those TV programmes that feature medical investigators either based in the UK or America I did find some of the subject matter quite interesting.
I was a little uneasy with the opening sections of the book as there were a few inaccuracies in my opinion, now normally I would enjoy the fact that my own hobby scuba diving was featured in the storyline however being into the sport means that I also have that annoying habit of spotting when things do not add up and some of the procedures and equipment being used just did not sound right for the type of diving being done. It is a small point and to the uninitiated meaningless however to me it smacks of a lack of proper research and this lack of attention to detail I felt is also echoed in some of the plot weaknesses that I thought existed in the book.
The character of Scarpetta is an interesting one and certainly comes across as quite complicated. I liked this feature and while I had not read any of the earlier books in the series I just felt that this added to her complexity and did not affect my enjoyment of this part of the book. The fact that the story is told entirely in the first person from Scarpetta point of view helps the reader get into her mind and the anxieties and prejudices that contribute to her character, certainly she has a number of flaws just as much as a keen intelligence and passion for her work. Unfortunately the first person perspective does not aid in the development of the other characters as you only get their perspective of events from their conversations with Scarpetta and her assumptions about their feelings. The main drawback of this approach is the fact that in particular the bad guys in this remain very much on the periphery and there is little or no insight into their motives. It is not such a problem for the regular characters as fans will have come across them in the other books and understands what is going up but new readers like me do not have this benefit.
There are some good relationships within the book and the closeness of the characters does provide an extra element of tension to the story. This did actually help to make this a three star book as it made me more inclined to keep the pages turning at a fast rate however at the same time I would not describe this book as a compulsive read which you cannot put down.
My one other criticism of the book is that some of the plot is a little weak, some events are left unexplained, at least not fully and some of the ways that the plot goes seem a little contrived and not really well thought out, they just seem to be stage managed to keep Scarpetta central to the plot whilst in reality this would not be the case given her job role. The biggest weakness for me is the fact that the motives of the bad guys is never really developed and in fact at times I found the whole thing a little unbelievable given the storyline.
I would probably be interested in reading some of her other work, it is the sort of book I would take on holiday for poolside reading and then not have to worry about packing it for the return journey home. Not a classic but interesting enough and not too heavy on the old grey matter.
Published by Time Warner the rrp is £6.99 and it can be picked up on Amazon for £5.59 new or from a penny in the new and used section. The ISBN is 0-7515-3050-6.
Thanks for reading and rating my review.
One of the problems that Patricia Cornwell faces is that she tells the Scarpetta novels in the first person, and it becomes very difficult to follow an investigation once aspects of it are delegated out. Her solution is to give Scarpetta, her niece Lucy, and lover Benton Wesley between them, all the skills needed to solve any crime without calling in anyone else; a bit like Spiderman, Batman, Robin and Superman rolled into one. This becomes particularly noticeable in this one, an investigation which ought to involve dozens of different teams. It becomes evident that the three of them together are the world’s greatest pathologist, lawyer, computer programmer, diver, helicopter pilot, robot engineer, negotiator – the list goes on. But this is actually in keeping with the ridiculous proportions of the book, which goes from investigating a simple diving death to uncovering the plot of a psycho religious cult to hold the world to ransom. It’s a little like one of those episodes of the Simpsons where Homer somehow becomes world famous, and takes it all in his stride. Just not believable. So I must pay tribute to Cornwell, who somehow kept me spellbound, and prevented me noticing my incredulity until long after I had finished reading. It is a very well written book. The only problem is that the tone of utter realism, and the cartoon-proportion plot don’t match up. If you can cope with that then it is definitely worth reading.
This book is the best yet by this author, this takes you to new territory in mystery and intrigue as Dr. Kay Scarpetta goes about unravelling the mystery that starts with a call on New Years Eve concerning the death in the Navy's Inactive Shipyard of a Reporter who was diving there at night and leads her from Chesapeake to Richmond to London and back. With the help of her colleagues FBI Profiler Beton Wesley, Cpt. Pete Moreeno and her Niece Lucy, Scarpetta works to link all the evidence together to unravel this case before a possible diaster occurs. We watch as she deals with all that occurs in this case as she goes throuh the steps to solve this mystery. If you like mystery then this book and the ones before it are for you.