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

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….…you could tell by her eyes that she was losing interest and Iain was looking warningly at his mother but she didn’t pay too much attention to that for after all didn’t he have to be saved from himself. How could this girl, so pale and fashionable, milk the cows, cut the corn with a sickle, plant potatoes, carry the peats home and do all the other jobs a woman had to do?
….Unless, of course, Iain went to Glasgow.
….Hadn’t she done everything for him, even when her mother had been screaming inside her that she must be strict with him? And now this girl, hatched heaven knows where but quite suited to Glasgow with its lights like the fires of hell, had come to her home and was only half listening to what she had to say. And looking so confident though she was only seventeen, and casting around very likely to see if there were any mirrors in the room and comparing this house to the great houses in which she was used to staying. I do not like her, she was saying to herself, as she took back the scone which had been barely pecked at (but perhaps in Glasgow they had finer food than that and something called coffy which you could buy in a dish).

~ Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

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….I forward the file to her, and she opens it on a computer display, clicking on PLAY. All we see is darkness, the muddy image of the road leading to Colonial Landing’s walled brick entrance.
….At 5:13 P.M., something is pulled over one camera, then the other, making a quiet crinkly plastic sound exactly as August described. Two minutes later, Gwen Hainey’s code, 1988, is entered, and the entrance gate slides open. There’s no car engine, no sound of anything driving through.
….Just the wind and rain, then the faint strains of organ music getting louder, crescendoing like The Phantom of the Opera. But what we’re listening to isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber.
….“Next you hear the entrance gate close, and then nothing,” I say to Lucy. “Apparently, all was quiet until fifty-two minutes later.”
….I fast-forward the recording almost to the end. We listen to the noise of the metal exit gate opening. Then the same eerie musical theme is playing again, and it’s enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

~ Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

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….To look at Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a small fox-terrier. There is a sort of Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.
….When first he came to live at my expense, I never thought I should be able to get him to stop long. I used to sit down and look at him, as he sat on the rug and looked up at me, and think: “Oh, that dog will never live. He will be snatched up to the bright skies in a chariot, that is what will happen to him.”
….But, when I had paid for about a dozen chickens that he had killed; and had dragged him, growling and kicking, by the scruff of his neck, out of a hundred and fourteen street fights; and had had a dead cat brought round for my inspection by an irate female, who called me a murderer; and had been summoned by the man next door but one for having a ferocious dog at large, that had kept him pinned up in his own tool-shed, afraid to venture his nose outside the door for over two hours on a cold night; and had learned that the gardener, unknown to myself, had won thirty shillings by backing him to kill rats against time, then I began to think that maybe they’d let him remain on earth for a bit longer, after all.

~ Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

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Nor were they entirely safe in the city: in early April 1986, after two performances of a piece titled The Idiot President, Diciembre’s lead actor and playwright was arrested for incitement, and left to languish for the better part of a year at a prison known as Collectors. His name was Henry Nuñez, and his freedom was, for a brief time, a cause célèbre. Letters were written on his behalf in a handful of foreign countries, by mostly well-meaning people who’d never heard of him before and who had no opinion about his work. Somewhere in the archives of one or another of the national radio stations lurks the audio of a jailhouse interview: this serious young man, liberally seasoning his statements with citations of Camus and Ionesco, describing a prison production of The Idiot President, with inmates in the starring roles. “Criminals and delinquents have an intuitive understanding of a play about national politics,” Henry said in a firm, uncowed voice.

~ At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 339…

Episode 339

Due to me spending so much time listening to audiobooks for the 20 (Audio)Books Of Summer challenge, not to mention Wimbledon, my reading of “proper” books has slumped dramatically, yet they continue to pop through the letterbox! Result – the TBR is up 7 to 178! Help!! I knew it would all start to go wrong again…

Here are a few more that should reach the top of the pile soon…

Vintage Crime Anthology

Bodies from the Library 5 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of Collins Crime Club. I’m always delighted when one of this series of anthologies pops through the door, so I’m glad to see the publisher describing them as “annual” in the blurb, suggesting they intend to continue producing them…

The Blurb says: The Golden Age still casts a long shadow, with many of the authors who were published at that time still hugely popular today. Aside from novels, they all wrote short fiction – stories, serials and plays – and although many have been republished in books over the last 100 years, Bodies from the Library collects the ones that are impossible to find: stories that appeared in a newspaper, magazine or an anthology that has long been out of print; ephemeral works such as plays not aired, staged or screened for decades; and unpublished stories that were absorbed into an author’s archive when they died . . .

Complete with fascinating biographies by Tony Medawar of all the featured authors, this latest volume in the annual Bodies from the Library series once again brings into the daylight the forgotten, the lost and the unknown, and is an indispensable collection for any bookshelf.

Historical Fiction

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Courtesy of Serpent’s Tail via NetGalley. I read a biography of John Wilkes Booth some years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I remember thinking at the time that the rest of his family actually sounded considerably more interesting than him! So I really like the sound of this one and am happy to see it’s getting pretty high ratings so far…

The Blurb says: In 1822, a secret family moves into a secret cabin some thirty miles northeast of Baltimore, to farm, to hide, and to bear ten children over the course of the next sixteen years. Junius Booth–breadwinner, celebrated Shakespearean actor, and master of the house in more ways than one–is at once a mesmerizing talent and a man of terrifying instability. One by one the children arrive, as year by year, the country draws frighteningly closer to the boiling point of secession and civil war.

As the tenor of the world shifts, the Booths emerge from their hidden lives to cement their place as one of the country’s leading theatrical families. But behind the curtains of the many stages they have graced, multiple scandals, family triumphs, and criminal disasters begin to take their toll, and the solemn siblings of John Wilkes Booth are left to reckon with the truth behind the destructively specious promise of an early prophecy.

Booth is a startling portrait of a country in the throes of change and a vivid exploration of the ties that make, and break, a family.

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Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I loved the first few Kay Scarpetta books but eventually grew tired of them – there’s only so often a forensic pathologist and her family can be targeted by a crazed killer in every book before it becomes just a tad unbelievable! It must be twenty years since I read one. So I’m not sure whether this one will work for me or not – only one way to find out!

The Blurb says: Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta has returned to Virginia as the chief medical examiner. Finding herself the new girl in town once again after being away for many years, she’s inherited an overbearing secretary and a legacy of neglect and possible corruption.

She and her husband Benton Wesley, now a forensic psychologist with the U.S. Secret Service, have relocated to Old Town Alexandria where she’s headquartered five miles from the Pentagon in a post-pandemic world that’s been torn by civil and political unrest. Just weeks on the job, she’s called to a scene by railroad tracks where a woman’s body has been shockingly displayed, her throat cut down to the spine, and as Scarpetta begins to follow the trail, it leads unnervingly close to her own historic neighborhood.

At the same time, a catastrophe occurs in a top secret private laboratory in outer space, and at least two scientists aboard are found dead. Appointed to the highly classified Doomsday Commission that specializes in sensitive national security cases, Scarpetta is summoned to the White House Situation Room and tasked with finding out what happened. But even as she works the first crime scene in space remotely, an apparent serial killer strikes again. And this time, Scarpetta could be in greater danger than ever before.

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Maugham on Audio

Rain and Other Stories by W Somerset Maugham read by Steven Crossley

A couple more for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! It was the narrator as much as the author that attracted me to this one, Steven Crossley being the wonderful narrator of the Shardlake books that I’ve been enjoying so much. However since I acquired this, I’ve read and enjoyed The Painted Veil, so I’m looking forward to spending more time with Maugham, especially since several of you commented on how much you’d enjoyed his short stories.

The Blurb says: W. Somerset Maugham is one of the best-loved short story writers of the last 100 years. In this collection of his finest short work Maugham takes the listener to the sun-drenched Pacific islands where the Governor mercilessly abuses the inhabitants; to the story “Rain”, in which the Reverend and the prostitute play out one of the most famous finales ever written; to the studies of chauvinistic Colonels, and snide conversations in Edwardian drawing rooms, as well as at the gates of heaven. As an introduction to one of the greatest writers in the English language Steven Crossley’s reading is the perfect place to start.

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Gaiman on Audio

Neverwhere: A BBC Radio Full Cast Dramatisation

First swap for the challenge! Sadly the full cast adaptation of Mansfield Park was dire – badly adapted, lots of irritating incidental music and Billie Piper sounded as if she was suffering from sinusitis! So I quickly abandoned it and am swapping it for this one which I acquired years ago when I was going through a brief Gaiman phase. Not sure if this will work for me either, but we’ll see! It certainly has a stellar cast list…

The Blurb says: Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere…. An act of kindness sees Richard Mayhew catapulted from his ordinary life into the strange world of London Below. There he meets the Earl of Earl’s Court, faces a life-threatening ordeal at the hands of the Black Friars, comes face to face with the Great Beast of London, and encounters an Angel. Called Islington. Accompanied by the mysterious Door and her companions, the Marquis de Carabas and the bodyguard Hunter, Richard embarks on an extraordinary quest to escape from the fiendish assassins Croup and Vandemar and to discover who ordered them to murder her family – all the while trying to get back to his old life in London Above. Adapted for radio by the award-winning Dirk Maggs, this captivating dramatisation features a stellar cast including David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head and David Schofield. Contains over 25 minutes of additional unbroadcast material, including extended scenes, bloopers and outtakes.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?