Autopsy (Kay Scarpetta 25) by Patricia Cornwell

My last Scarpetta…

😦 😦

Kay Scarpetta has returned to where she started out all those long years ago, to be Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia. The location means she’ll be handy for her other job, as advisor on the POTUS’ Doomsday committee. She is investigating the brutal murder of a woman when she receives a call informing her she’s needed in the Situation Room. There’s been an incident in a space station and two astronauts have died, the third escaping in the shuttle back to land in Russian-controlled territory.

This, I’m afraid, is a bit of a mess. Cornwell has thrown everything into it – serial killers, cutting edge technology that feels more like science fiction, politics, international skulduggery, poisoning by mystery drugs, personal problems, staffing problems, hints at corruption, etc., etc. Every topic is treated with total superficiality and it’s hard to see exactly what the connecting story is supposed to be. There are hints that somehow the woman’s murder and the space deaths may be connected, which, if true, really is a coincidence too far.

The real problem is that the story doesn’t fill the pages. All these strands are started off, and then nothing happens to move them forward until they are all resolved in a tacked-on climax which of course involves the usual peril to Scarpetta and her family. How many close shaves can these people endure? They’d be safer in a war zone than in government employment in America, apparently. Instead of plot momentum, the pages are filled with pointless detail. Scarpetta cannot walk down a corridor without us being told what colour the carpet is, what the doors are made of, what pictures hang on the wall, how loud or soft her footsteps sound, whether she’s carrying her scene case or rolling it. It can take a page to get from the entrance of a building to the elevator, and the poor reader soon learns to know that there will be another corridor to be described when Scarpetta reaches the desired floor. I don’t need to know that a basin is marble, that a car is a Tesla, that Scarpetta puts gel in her hair in the morning. Not every noun requires an adjective. And I do not need or want to know the make and qualities of every gun every gun-obsessed American owns.

Patricia Cornwell

Scarpetta herself is so tedious and self-important and this is not helped by the book being in the always annoying first-person present tense. Everyone is incompetent except for her and her immediate family and inner circle (and frankly even several of them are a bit on the crazy side). Virginia has collapsed into a morass of incompetence and corruption since she left, and she knows she’s been given the job because she’s the only one – the only person in the whole wide world and space above – who’s capable of running the department efficiently. Why is it her responsibility to investigate every crime single-handedly? Does Virginia not employ police detectives? What qualifies her to advise the space programme? Do NASA and the US military have no medics, no scientists, no procedures, no contingency planning? What would happen to America if she died? Would it simply collapse, unable to carry out any function without her?

I stuck it out for over two-thirds and was determined to finish, but it broke me. I couldn’t take one more paragraph of Scarpetta complaining about her secretary, her predecessor, her colleagues, her sister. I couldn’t take one more page of unnecessary description. I couldn’t bear to wait any longer to see if any of the story strands would ever move forward. So I skipped to the end and discovered the dénouement was even worse than I feared. My last Scarpetta. My last Cornwell.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

Amazon UK Link

50 thoughts on “Autopsy (Kay Scarpetta 25) by Patricia Cornwell

  1. I very much like your review, but I’m not at all tempted by the book! I haven’t read Patricia Cornwell, and with the abundance of crime series I’ve already engaged with, I don’t feel the need to start. I’m sorry your dedication to reading this book brought no rewards for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “What would happen to America if she died? Would it simply collapse, unable to carry out any function without her?”


    I very much appreciate the sacrifice you made so none of us make the poor decision of picking up one of these books ever again. I gave up on the series years ago and I’m glad to see I made the right decision. Really does make you wonder why these are still selling like hot cakes, doesn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I couldn’t possibly agree with you more, FictionFan, about Cornwell and Scarpatta. I did read the first few, but like you, I tired of the level of detail about things like carpets. And I’m really not a fan of the first-person present tense. First person’s OK when it’s done well, but not present tense. And yes, the putting-family-members-in-peril trope is a trope too far. That’s when my eyerolls make it impossible for me to see what’s on the page! You’ve reminded me why I haven’t read one of these books in a while, and am in no hurry to read another.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, they were original in the beginning which made up for the facts that they were never very well written and the Scarpetta character was never appealing. But now they don’t even have that originality to fall back on. And I had forgotten that they were first-person present tense – ugh! No more for me!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I can never quite work out where the line is between scene-setting and padding, but we know it when we read it, don’t we? This one was dreadful – meaningless details that filled pages and added nothing! They were original in the beginning, which I think meant people were willing to overlook the facts that they’re not very well written and Scarpetta is really unappealing. But now they don’t even have that originality to fall back on…

      Liked by 2 people

    • I had given up on this series long ago and only ventured back in because the publisher sent me an unsolicited review copy. But it was a mistake to try again – they certainly haven’t improved over time!


  4. I laughed at your review here. It’s been many years since I read a book by this author. She lost me a long time back with a character dying/not dying switchup. I was already annoyed with her, though I do find having a pathologist as a protagonist interesting. As to whether there might be one to ‘take her place’, shall I list all the fictional crime novel pathologists that could? OK, I won’t, but I would nominate Maura Isles from Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles books. There. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I opted out of this series long ago too, even before the incident you mention, I think, and only tried to read this one because the publisher sent me an unsolicited review copy. But I should have gone with my instincts – they certainly haven’t improved since I dropped out! Ha, I know – Scarpetta might have been original once, but I feel there are plenty of people doing her job now… only better! 😉


  5. Her books used to be amazing, but I haven’t paid any attention to her in the past 5-6 years. All the excellent character building she did in the earlier books have come crashing down. Now, everyone is just a caricature.

    I believe that series should have come to a natural end in that book where it looked like Wes had died. Instead, it has continued on and on, and it’s insufferable now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think the early ones felt very original and that made them stand out from the crowd. But they don’t even have that going for them now, and Scarpetta and her family are such tedious people! I do think authors tend to hang on to series long past their sell-by date, and this one is a prime example of that. Apart from anything else Scarpetta must be way past retirement age by now… 😉


  6. Once again, you’ve got me giggling, FF — both because of your well-thought-out review and because I’ve never bought into the Scarpetta series. My mom loves them, but she reads a lot of folks I can’t abide! Anyway, this does sound dreadful. First person present tense annoys me to pieces, and long-winded descriptions of carpets, tile, and other furnishings are better saved for architectural nonfiction. I’m surprised you suffered through as much of this one as you did!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did enjoy the first few though I never loved them or counted them as favourites. But oh dear, either they’ve got worse or I’ve got pickier – perhaps both! 😂 Your mom’s not alone, though – going by the number of ratings this has on Goodreads, she still has a huge following. Baffling!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Talk about not holding back! You’ve listed a whole heap of nails in the coffin, any two of which would’ve been enough to consign the corpse to sweet oblivion and the progenitor of this unholy mess to a deserved obscurity. I trust the publishers take note and send suitable messages down the line…

    The review? Five stars, for sure! Here they are *****

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha, I’m kinda hoping the publishers don’t see the review – they may never send me another book! 😉 However, going by the ratings on Goodreads she still has a huge and loyal following, so I don’t think my rant will do her much harm… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m glad I didn’t read more of this series after may be two books. All I remember is her always investigating corpses under water and thinking why she had to be under water all the time. I did enjoy reading your thoughts though. So all that you endured was worthwhile since it brought us some much needed laughs.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. ha! this review was hilarious. “How much can these people take? They’d be safer in a war zone” was the best line ever. This also answered my last question – this is clearly not your first Cornwell, but also, clearly your last! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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