Book Review

Dr. Scarpetta: In Over Her Head?

© 1997 Shawn Vidmar

  Cause of Death is the seventh book in the series involving Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the chief Medical Examiner for Richmond, Va. It places the good doctor in Sandbridge, Va., in a hovel between the Navy’s Inactive Ship Yard and the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge. She is called to investigate the untimely death of a healthy adult male. Could it be accidental, for the victim was using very old scuba equipment? Or could it be murder, and if so who would want to kill him? More importantly, what did he know?  

   The victim, Ted Eddings, an aggressive investigative reporter is found suspended thirty feet below the Elizabeth River’s icy surface and illegally tangled in the moorings of a submarine grounded in the Navy’s Inactive Ship yard. Scarpetta must done a dry suit and descend to the crime scene, before she will allow him to be transported to her office. She is treated with contempt by the local boy’s club involving the sheriff’s department and the supervisors at the ship yard.  

   Scarpetta is out of her element, covering for an absent Dr. Mant who has left no forwarding address, and wants to return to her familiar surroundings of Richmond. She soon uncovers discrepancies in her case, such as evidence disappearing, phony phone calls announcing deaths which haven’t been reported and footprints in the snow around the Dr. Mant’s house. She tries to leave but her unseen fan club apparently infiltrates every nuance in which she is involved.   

   When a bible for the Right wing group of New Zionists appears among the dead man’s belongings, Scarpetta discovers a trail of murder, nuclear weapons and sinister plans. With the help of her computer programming niece Lucy and police captain Pete Marino, she is able to untangle the crooked web the New Zionist powers that be have woven, but no without finding herself in great peril. Lucy, with her brilliant designs involving computers, virtual reality, and cyberspace combined with robotics, develops a robot more capable than Rosie on The Jetsons. Unfortunately Lucy has no room for error because her test run is to save the lives of many hostages.

   Filled with chilling situations and examples of the evil mankind is capable of exhibiting, Cornwell delivers a fast paced who-done-it comparable only to her other books. Her prose is witty, strong and knowledgeable. She has great background in the Medical Examiner world in which she writes. She is on the cutting edge of computer technology and devices which allow the dead to talk. She also allows her characters to be human and have personal lives which continue beyond the book. Each time you pick up one of her novels, her characters have grown in the interterm like old friends.

    Cornwell’s books were awarded many honors, including the Gold Dagger,  Edgar Allen Poe, Creasy, Anthony, Macavity and the French Prix du Roman d’Adventurei. Her Scarpetta series begins with Postmortem, then moves into, Body of Evidence, All That Remains, Cruel and Unusual, The Body Farm and From Potter’s Field; however, you do not need to read them in order to appreciate her intelligent prose. She is currently working on an original screenplay and meeting with the directors to find the perfect actor to play Dr. Scarpetta.  

Patricia D. Cornwell
ISBN 0 399 14146 4  

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