I was nervous about reading this one. I’d liked her earlier books featuring Dr Kay Scarpetta but felt the plots were requiring more suspension of belief than I was prepared to give when terrorists, Interpol, blowflies or any combination thereof were involved. But “Scarpetta” didn’t demand suspension of belief. The plot’s set on solid ground: a misogynist serial killer.
A forensic psychiatry student’s been murdered and her boyfriend checks into a psychiatric hospital, requesting that only Dr Kay Scarpetta treat him for what turn out to be self-inflicted injuries. He’s clearly paranoid. It takes Scarpetta’s niece Lucy’s forensic computer skills to uncover that he has good reason to be: someone’s been emailing him maps showing him is movements traced via GPS. Two earlier murders are linked to the student’s death. The body of a systems administrator for New York’s on-line celeb gossip rag, “Gotham Gotcha” is discovered. Scarpetta figures who the killer is, but can’t put together any proof that would stand up in court. There’s the familiar showdown between Scarpetta and the killer near the end.
“Scarpetta” is set in New York so Jaime Berger’s back. Pete Marino’s been through AA and joined the NYPD. He’s still abrasive, still a fine investigator, still cares, although without the drink and steroids he’s less violent and safety gets to date a female police officer this time. Lucy is maturing: still intelligent, still happier developing software than dealing with humans, but less frustrated so less impulsive. She lets colleagues fly evidence to a specialist lab whereas previously she’d have done it herself. Benton Wesley is now Dr Kay Scarpetta’s husband although still her anchor. Scarpetta herself, I’ve always read as a Mary-Sue, somehow in the thick of the action, fighting to uncover the victim’s story as if restoring a voice they’ve been cruelly cheated of, even when, as in this case, the victim’s become anti-Scarpetta.
Despite all the familiarities, “Scarpetta” is fresh. The characters have grown and the plot asks questions that resonate beyond the book. Why do hurt people hurt others? Why can’t they break the cycle of abuse and violence? Why do some still seek to cruelly manipulate others? Why do victims become victims? Patricia Cornwell has wisely played to her strengths. May not win new converts, but will reassure fans.