Book: Postmortem and the other Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell

A good beginning to a series of generally good crime novels

Patricia Cornwell
Pocket Books, 1990
ISBN: 0-671-02361-6
342 pages

Postmortem is the first in the series of novels by Patricia Cornwell that feature Kay Scarpetta as the narrator and detective. She's the Chief Medical Examiner for the State, sorry, Commonwealth of Virginia. I've occasionally read books from that series for some years, but I've always picked them up at random and so it's just now that I've read the first one in the series. In my experience, the books are reliably good detective novels. (I've heard that Blow Fly isn't as good as the others, but I haven't read it.)

Dr Scarpetta is a smart single woman; a lawyer and an M.D. and a highly competent boss. As with many of the other books in the series, in Postmortem there's a serial murderer loose in Richmond where Dr Scarpetta works. And it's her work that's critical in finding out who it is. Along the way we have a computer break-in (there are a couple of things I could quibble about, but I won't), a mysterious substance that keeps appearing on the bodies, and what appears to be evidence-tampering. The plot isn't remarkably inventive, but there's nothing wrong with it.

If I hadn't known that Postmortem was the first of the Kay Scarpetta novels, I might have guessed. For one, most of the characters smoke. For another, the later novels show an author a bit more sure of her craft. There's a slow and talky section beginning on page 53 and the denouement is a bit talky as well. Still, Postmortem is a good novel.

Various of the characters in Postmortem appear in later books. There's the policeman Pete Merino whom Dr Scarpetta begins by disliking, the FBI profiler Benton Wesley, and Dr Scarpetta's niece Lucy, who is a precocious youngster here. And there are various themes that start here and routinely appear in later books: political interference with her work and her difficult relationships with men, for example. If there's a criticism I have of the series, it's that Dr Scarpetta is pretty humorless. That starts with this book too. (Ms Cornwell is certainly capable of writing with humor; there's much in her book Southern Cross that's pretty funny.)

I haven't found any of the Kay Scarpetta books to be fabulous, but when I've felt like being entertained by a crime novel and I've picked one up, I've never been disappointed.

I'm pretty sure that Ms Cornwell means "well tended" rather than "well attended" on page 32.

Posted: Mon - November 15, 2004 at 08:59   Main   Category: