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This is the second Cornwell book I've read now, after unfortunately reading one of her newer and not-so-good novels. Luckily, I really enjoyed this one so I'm looking forward to a few more Cornwell novels in future.
I came across this in the library and noticed there are a few of her books there, though I'm not sure which ones have any sense of chronological order, so I just picked one randomly. On the cover of Trace it reads: 'Firing on all cylinders' - Daily Express, which is a good sign to hook you in.
Trace falls within the crime/thriller genre, and features one of Cornwell's key characters, Dr Kay Scarpetta. This novel is set 5 years after being given the boot as the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. After moving away and keeping herself busy, she gets a call out of the blue. She's been asked to go to the new building with the new chief, Dr Marcus, to help give her opinion as a Consultant Pathologist on the case of a teenage girl, Gilly Paulsson. Her body has been found naked, face down on the bed, and it seems like she was strangled, but there are few clues as to her murderer.
Scarpetta turns up with Marino, her sidekick, in tow to the new building only to be appalled by the state it's in. Dr Marcus is despised, nothing seems organised, and everyone is in a mess. Her return to Richmond seems to cause a stir, being such a highly renowned Chief years previously, and it's clear that Dr Marcus isn't keen on this. Office politics aside, they begin to review to Paulsson case, speaking to her rather bizarre mother about her daughter and her ex-husband who lives elsewhere, and suspicions start to rise. Could this confused and rather strange woman be to blame for her daughter's murder? The water gets muddier when the father's history comes to light, and murkier still when other bodies are found that appear to possibly be linked. However, what links them and why seem to be unanswerable questions with so little to go on. Enter the FBI, who start confusing matters even more.
Factor in to this confusion Lucy Farinelli, Scarpetta's niece, who's having problems of her own. Her girlfriend was attacked in Lucy's large, expensive home, leaving little except unidentifiable prints and a warning in the form of a drawing of an eye. The girlfriend that was attacked is highly neurotic and seems to claim not to recall any details of the attack; to keep her out of harm's way, and to attempt to break the barracades to her memory and common sense, Lucy sends her to Benton, a professional and also Scarpetta's boyfriend.
As the story progresses we seem to see two or more different storylines and lots of questions but no answers. As the web of characters and their histories gather in complexity, the storylines begin to be clarified and start to diverge, and bits of the puzzle come together. I won't say any more on the plot, other than that it's quite original and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. I had some suspicions, but couldn't have guessed early on what and how different aspects were linked or why. I really enjoyed seeing how much information and different aspects of characters, scenes, motives etc come together, and Cornwell does it in a very systematic and articulate way.
Because of Cornwell's fluid writing style I found it easy enough to keep up with what was quite an intricate and intelligent plot. She's able to blend together each part of the story effortlessly and clearly, recapping the important points so as not to lose or confuse the reader without dragging things out too much.
The characters were created with a good degree of depth, making them three dimensional, interesting and believable. Relationships were also fairly well created, though I would have perhaps liked a little more on the Scarpetta-Benton front, which seemed to end quite abruptly and with little real in-depth analysis of it throughout. Having said that, it could be a good thing because the novel wasn't side-tracked by a love story, it just have it another avenue through which to create more interest and dynamic appeal.
Each scene was vividly painted, enough so that you could imagine for yourself what it was like and get a sense of the atmosphere. I thought this was done well because it meant I could 'lose myself' in the book a little easier, really getting a feel for what was going on and wanting to go back for more. I wasn't overly keen on the ending, which is probably the one downside, but wasn't bad enough to spoil the enjoyment of the book, I guess I just felt it ended a little abruptly. I would have liked a little more explanation, a little more character follow-up after the surprises were out of the bag.
Overall, this is one I'd recommend, both for those familiar and unfamiliar with Cornwell. It makes for a decent crime thriller that grips and pulls you in, and offers an original plot to keep things fresh and interesting.
489 pages over 58 chapters (paperback)
Newer version selling on Amazon for £4.12
Having pretty much dismissed Patrica Cornwell in recent reviews, and with what I think is the fourteenth Scarpetta novel, BOOK OF THE DEAD, just being released in paperback, I decided to give the woman another chance and re-read the last few books in the Scarpetta series so far. After feeling a bit disappointed with BLOWFLY but finding it a little better than I remembered, I have since moved onto the next book, TRACE, which I finished re-reading last night. This is the novel, that for me at least, comes closer to bringing back everything that made this popular crime series so good in the first place.
It has been five years since Scarpetta was fired from her job as Chief Medical Examiner of Richmond, Virginia amidst much political scandal following a near-deadly assault by the notorious serial killer, Jean Baptiste Chardonne. Now, working as a forensic consultant, she has been asked to return at the behest of the current Chief M.E and the new Governer to assist in the investigation of the potentially high-profile death of fourteen year old Gilly Paulson. But, as Scarpetta and her loyal side-kick, Marino, are soon to discover sometimes you really shouldn't go home again!!
The first thing Scarpetta notices as soon as she arrives is the tearing down of her old offices to be replaced by a parking lot for the newly re-furbished Amtrak train station. Entering the new building she later moved to is not much more of a better experience. New Chief, Dr.Joel Marcus, finds it extremely difficult to hide his distaste at her presence, old colleague Jack Fielding, can hardly meet her eye and much of the department seems to share in its' lack of respect for their new boss who comes across as distinctly cold and not really knowing what it is he is doing. Gilly Paulson's case too is further complicated when it becomes apparent that trace evidence from her crime scene could possibly have cross-contaminated the trace evidence found at the scene of a construction worker killed when a tractor ran over his body. As accusations start flying about how this could have happened, Scarpetta is reminded why she left Richmond, Virginia in the first place.
Meanwhile, Kay's relationship with FBI profiler, Benton Wesley (long thought dead after he entered wirtness protection) is feeling distinctly strained as he works on a case of his own in a mountain retreat in Aspen and neice, Lucy, has problems as well when one of her employees is first stalked then assaulted; espeically when it becomes apparent that Lucy may have been the intended target!!! How both these seperate and apparently unrelated events link up with Scarpetta's return to her old stomping ground combine to make the majority of this novel a highly gripping and compelling read. Ultimately, it is only the climax and closing chapters that really let the whole thing down like an unenflated balloon!!
Cornwell's latest endeavour tries desperately (and very nearly succeeds) to recapture what made the original Scarpetta stories so great but though the change from first to third person perspective may seem like such a small thing, it kind of makes this a bit of a difficult read for long-time fans who had come to think they knew what to expect from the series. Change is not always a bad thing but TRACE is nowhere near as good as it could've would've should've been and this is something of a travesty. Fans of Cornwell will so want to like this and, for 90% of the novel this does feel like old-skool Scarpetta, but the villian of the piece is unfortunately just that little bit too lame and fails to really come up with the goods when it all comes to a head.
Certainly this is better by far than BLOWFLY and the plot and writing flow much more comfortably across the page but if you've been reading Cornwell for awhile you are probably going to feel a little cheated by this book. New fans could easily pick this up as there is little or no reference to earlier novels and events other than what needs to be known and they will probably enjoy this more. Personally if this was written by any other author I probably wouldn't bother with anything else by them but me and Cornwell have history and so, for now, I will stick with her. For Cornwell to rely on her fans' loyalty feels a bit of a cheap trick though and it is a shame that she almost doesn't know what to do with her character of Scarpetta anymore. I gave up on Laurell.K.Hamilton's ANITA BLAKE series because I grew bored of what she was doing to the characters but it's a fact, I don't take any enjoyment from abandoning an author. I do not think that I will be buying any of Cornwell's newer books however despite the fact I still want and intend to read them; it will be much more preferable for me to get them as potential swaps on READITSWAPIT. But this book, it's true, does leave the reader with a certain sense of hope that Cornwell is headed back on track and it is so nice to finally read a novel where neither Jean Baptiste Chardonne or his extended crime-family play a part in the proceedings.
If you can get this cheap or borrow it from the libary, I would probably do that. This really isn't worth paying full price for though if BLOWFLY was a total let-down for you then this is going to reassure you that there is still potential in the series yet!!
As an avid reader since I was young, I have always enjoyed discovering new authors, and was incredibly happy when I picked up my first Patricia Cornwell book, discovering that I had found a writer whose work I enjoyed.
I found that Cornwells last two books have been somewhat of a letdown. The author seems less involved with her characters and their interaction with each other.If I had picked up Trace without reading any of the previous books, then I would have found the characters, especially Kay Scarpetta, drab and void of personality. The book relies too much on past novels,because without reading the previous books, I would have had no clue about who these people were, and what their lives were about.
Cornwell seems determined to write about these characters downfalls, and slow decent towards the books real theme-death.Marino is constantly thinking about smoking. His health is constantly referred to. Lucys crazy behaviour is also an issue. To be fair, I dont want all of the characters constantly happy, everything going their way, but it was very depressing to read about a group of people who are never happy. Everything is going wrong for everyone.
Her neice Lucy, is out of control. The book does not properly explain Lucys job, her relationships with Rudy and Henri, or for that matter Marino and Benton. There are passing references to Kay Scarpetta being Lucys Aunt, but there is no evident relationship between them.
The only relationship defined in the book is that between Marino and Scarpetta, and even this is vague. As I said, if I had not read the previous books, I would not have understood why they are friends.
The aspect that I have enjoyed most in her previous books were the autopsy scenes. Thses however were in short supply in Trace. IM not morbid, I mean, I dont want to read a book filled with blood and guts, but the fact remains that Kay Scarpetta is a medical examiner, not a detective, and this did not seem clear in this book. There is one autopsy scene, if only a very short one.
Another flaw with the book, is the new medical examiner Dr Marcus, is not fully explained. His passionate dislike for Scarpetta, his strange phobias, and his reluctance to actually autopsy anyone, leaves the reader confused, and anxious for more information.
In the previous books, the murderers have always been diabolical characters, people to be afraid of, but in Trace I actually found myself feeling incredibly sorry for the murdered in question. It was however, not made clear his motive for murder. The character, although the murdered in the book, actually plays a very small part in the novel, and I felt this hampered the book.
Usually, for a book to be enjoyable, you have to care about the characters. However, in Trace the main character Scarpetta, is cold and formal. Lucy her neice is selfish, and her actions are ridiculous. Marino is depicted as a very sorry character, with none of the wit or humour of the previous books.
The relationship between Scarpetta and Benton is ridiculous. The characters seem to have suddenly forgotten that Benton had faked his own death in a previous book, and no reference is made to this. Although the relationship seems long distance, him and Scarpetta seem to be doing just fine with each other, something I find incredibally unbelievable considering how much pain he put her though.
The ending is neat and predictable. All the loose ends seem to be tied up very quickly, but not well enough to satisfy me as a Cornwell fan
All in all, an enjoyable read, but nowhere near as gripping as Cornwells previous work.