Newest Review: ... to dwell on the implications of this, she is called in to help on a new case. There has been a case of arson at the property of publishin... more
Good story, but main character lacks human personality
Point of Origin - Patricia Cornwell
Member Name: JOHNDMR
Point of Origin - Patricia Cornwell
Date: 18/03/05, updated on 07/04/05 (143 review reads)
Advantages: see review
Disadvantages: see review
Feeling in the need for a thriller and wanting to broaden my horizons beyond the UK, I decided to try something from one of the top US crime writers whose books can be found on our shelves at work.
Patricia Cornwell’s heroine is Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner for ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms), the federal law enforcement agency. In ‘Point of Origin’ (I’ll resist the temptation to call it POO), she is getting ready for a short break with her boyfriend, former FBI profiler Benton Wesley, when a cryptic, sinister letter comes through the post. It is signed by Carrie Grethen, a psycho killer (and former lover of her niece Lucy) whom Scarpetta helped to send to a psychiatric hospital after she went on a murderous rampage not long before. Now Carrie’s on the loose again, vowing to get even, writing to the press that she was seduced by Lucy, and then framed by Scarpetta and Wesley for crimes she never committed.
Before Scarpetta has time to dwell on the implications of this, she is called in to help on a new case. There has been a case of arson at the property of publishing entrepreneur Kenneth Sparkes, resulting in the deaths of his former girlfriend Claire Rawley, and nineteen horses in the stable. In her forensic work she finds grounds for believing that Rawley had been murdered before the fire was started. While her investigations are in progress, she hears of an apparently copycat murder. Is Grethen behind that one as well?
Needless to say, it’s not quite as simple as that, otherwise this would be a rather predictable and very short novel. We’re hardly going to know who the murderer is when we’re barely a third of the way through.
There’s a clue to be found in the minute metal shards in the victims’ skulls. And there’s another death, an unauthorised internet connection that provides a further clue or two, a couple of obstructive persons in high places, notably Grethen’s legal aid attorney who stonewalls Scarpetta in a futile interview - and various twists and turns, not least another rather surprising and shocking death.
A compulsive thriller? While I wouldn’t call it compulsive, I gradually got hooked by the story. In the early stages I found the plot a little too slow moving, and to my non-technical mind, it seemed as if all the forensic and technical detail was being used to pad out a rather thin story. But there was a stage roughly halfway when an unexpected development lifted it up a gear from ‘OK thriller’ to ‘real page turner’.
Some of the personal detail is pretty grim and requires a strong stomach. Still, as with any other gory US murder yarn published in the last few years, you can always remind yourself that it’s fiction. Sometimes it strikes me as a touch over-written, too much padding in places, but that’s probably down to market forces which equates long (not to say overlong) novels with value for money.
Moreover, I finished the book feeling that Dr Kay Scarpetta was very efficient, successful at her job, but a little two-dimensional. It was as if there was too little human personality to identify with. I won’t say she wasn’t a likeable character, but she came across as a ruthless career woman but not much else. She could do with a sense of humour.
Now I don’t mean to sound insular or xenophobic, but I’ve a hunch that in Blighty we like our detectives, whether in print or on TV (Wycliffe, Morse, Wimsey, Marple, Poirot – and I know the last is Belgian, but he was created by a British writer), to be endearing, loveable even, and if possible slightly eccentric as well. Dr Scarpetta fails that test. She does prove vulnerable once or twice in response to events, but she would have had to be exceptionally hard-boiled not to.
In short, it’s a good story, but something is still lacking - the main character lacked that extra warmth. I’d recommend this one half-heartedly, I suppose, but it doesn’t persuade me to seek out any other of Patricia Cornwell’s books.
£6.99 (high street), £5.59 (Amazon), or as usual much less on Amazon marketplace.