Friday, January 9, 2009

It Always Feels Like Somebody's Watching Me

I have a long, colorful history with Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series. I've loved some of the books, and hated others. I've been frantically glued to the pages of some, and hurled others towards the nearest wall. So you're probably wondering (or maybe not), what does Super Librarian have to say about the latest book in the series, Scarpetta?

Well, it didn't suck.

Yes, it's true. I've always had a way with words.

Before I continue on with this review, for those of you not read up on the series who don't want spoilers? Yeah, turn back now. There's no way I can review this book without providing spoilers for previous entries. You've been warned.

A new year finds Dr. Kay Scarpetta hard at work in Boston, when she gets a call from her husband, former FBI profiler, Dr. Benton Wesley. There's been a shocking murder in New York City. A single woman, a little person, savagely murdered in her apartment and found by her boyfriend, also a little person. The boyfriend, Oscar, is extremely paranoid and is having delusions that he's being followed, tracked and spied on. Now he's discovered his girlfriend's body, and he's really freaked. So he checks himself into Bellevue, demands to see Dr. Benton Wesley, and then states in no uncertain terms that he'll only let Dr. Kay Scarpetta examine him. The New York District Attorney, Jaime Berger, is sitting on a powder keg, and already the tabloids are calling Oscar "The Midget Murderer." Heck, they're not even sure Oscar is guilty of anything and the stick-up-her-ass New York City coroner is hesitant to even rule the murder a homicide. Against his better judgment, Benton calls Kay and she travels to New York to meet with Oscar.

What unfolds is a complicated case involving Oscar's paranoia, another plot to "sabotage" Kay, a vicious online gossip site called Gotham Gotcha!, and charges of animal cruelty.

I found this story, for the most part, a nice return to form. It appears to be better written (or maybe I've just gotten used to it by now) than the last several books. I also enjoyed that the investigation took more of a central role, with all the character baggage taking more of a back seat in this installment. There's a lot of loose threads floating around in this book, and the author ties up everything quite neatly in the end. I also felt the climactic finish really cooked, and I tore through the second half of this novel.


A lot of this felt like same ol' same ol'. I mean, how many times do I have to read a book in this series that features someone who is "out to get" Kay. Seriously, this woman has more enemies than Richard Nixon. Also, while Kay has always been a smart, attractive woman, she's nauseatingly too good to be true in this book. I kept waiting for her to say, "Can't we all just get along?" in regards to all the character baggage that now populates this series.

In regards to that baggage, yes Detective Pete Marino plays a sizable role in this story. For the most part, I thought Cornwell handled his fall from grace and redemption well. That being said, I guess I expected Lucy, Benton and Kay to be a lot more pissed off. Kay especially. She seems determined to sweep his actions under the rug completely and essentially doesn't acknowledge it. Despite his odious behavior in the previous book, The Book of the Dead, I really liked Marino in this story. It was lovely to see him back to being a good investigator!

While the writing was better here, I did feel this story was easily 100 pages too long. Maybe I've been reading too many shorter books lately, but Scarpetta seemed to take forever to get moving in a forward direction. Once Kay finally gets done with her examination of Oscar, and the investigating begins, the book picks up steam.

The suspense thread is no real brain-bender, given the lack of suspects, but Cornwell has never been a writer of traditional Whodunits anyway. And after the last few lackluster entries, I'm finding myself surprisingly easy to please. Probably the lowered expectations. Final Grade = C+


jmc said...

I can't remember the last Scarpetta book I read. Several books ago, I'm sure. But wasn't Benton dead? Or is my overactive imagination confusing characters?

Lori said...

I gave up on this series so long ago that my response was, "Kay is married now? Huh." Obviously I'm now out of the loop but I know other people who are still reading & have been really frustrated with the recent books. For theirs sakes I'm glad this one is better.

Kati said...

I gave up on this series a long time ago, and don't really wish to revisit it. But man! I loved Postmortem all the way through to the Body Farm. But after that, I felt like she really went off the tracks.

So, is Kay gay now? It always felt like that was the direction she was going to end up going...

Wendy said...

JMC: Nope, you're not confusing characters. Which is why I put the spoiler warning in the review. He reappeared on the scene several books ago. Blow Fly? I think? Gah, can't remember now.

Kati: My very favorite book in the series is the one right after Body Farm. From Potter's Field. For me the series really went off the rails with book 12, Blow Fly. For some fans, it was sooner than that.

Kay is not gay, and got married in between the last book and Scarpetta (this new book). Her niece, Lucy, is gay.

Lori: She got engaged in the last book, Book Of The Dead and the wedding took place "off page" - so she's officially married in this new book, Scarpetta. I did find this one a lot better than the last several. That being said, it's still not as good as some of those real early books IMHO.

joykenn said...

I was given the book for Christmas and since I haven't been following the series, on its on this book left a lot to be desired! I think the last one of this series I read her niece was visiting and demanding to be taught to shoot, yet another conspiracy against her was developing, she was accused of murder, and she was mourning her lover blown up in London.

I really didn't care for her character then and she hasn't improved with time. Obviously I must be in the minority since she sells very well....or maybe all the publicity dollars spent by her publisher results in higher sales. Sigh. We've always known that some bestsellers are the result of lots of TV, ads, advance review copies, etc. etc. Meanwhile perfectly fine books without the push languish.

Lisa6Kids said...

I am in the same boat. I overall enjoyed it, I felt like it was very very dialogue driven. A lot of boardroom discussion type feel to it. I miss the earlier books when she was the chief in Virginia. Those were the heydays of the books for me. I also like Marino in this one. I was really not a fan of the shaved head/biker tough guy Marino.
Not thrilled that Kay and Benton are married, it just messes with my feel for their relationship.
I can pinpoint when the series started to go downhill for me and it was when Cornwell changed point of view I always liked the first person narrative.

Wendy said...

Joy: Oh yeah, these books stopped standing alone ages ago. Given my job, it's basically impossible for me to "give up" mystery series entirely. I also tend to suffer from terminal nostalgia and Maybe This Time Will Be Different Syndrome.

I know, for a fact, the reason this book generally worked for me was because I really slogged through the last several. Just thinking about Blow Fly and Trace gives me a case of the vapors ;-)

Cornwell's gotten a big push from her publisher the last two books. I actually got an ARC for Book Of The Dead, and there was lots of TV promo for Scarpetta. Makes me really curious if her numbers were starting to dip!

Lisa: Yeah, the moment she started head-hopping and the books featured "less Kay" things started to really slide downhill.

I've always loved the Marino character, and while I didn't mind Shaved Head Biker Dude Marino, I hated that he stopped being a good investigator. Because really, that's where his charm lies. He's incredibly politically incorrect, and certainly not the nicest guy, but he's damn good at his job. I was happy that he was back to being a "good" cop in this book!

Lisa6Kids said...

I know, I think was it Blow Fly (?) where Kay was almost not even IN the book. I hated that one.

JamiSings said...

Lucy is gay again? In the last book I read she was sleeping with one of her male coworkers.

So did Cornwell go all "I hate fat people" in this one? I noticed that in the majority of her books fat people, especially women, are seen as the most evil characters. She writes them less sympathetic then then serial killers. You'd think we were Satan incarnate the way she writes us. It's one of the reasons I gave up on her. That and her obsession with older women/younger men relationships. I think it was Isle Of Dogs where I just about lost it when the one cop started oogling his 60+ year old boss when she wore a mini skirt.

FD said...

Oh, ow. "It didn't suck."
Dammned with faint praise lol.

Maybe I'll read this one if I can borrow a copy. I gave up around book 11ish... They'd gone a bit all-about-Kay for my liking. Border-line Mary-Sue, almost.

Wendy said...

Jami: Oh yeah...I had forgotten about that. Yeah, Lucy has pretty much been firmly gay for the last several books. I think she was sleeping with a male coworker in Blow Fly? A book I try to block out because I hated that one.

The only weight issues that come up in this book are in reference to Marino, who has lost a bunch of weight because he gives up booze and in reference to paranoid Oscar, who is described as a bit of a gym rat. Other than that? Nope.

I totally skipped Isle of Dogs. In fact, I've never reader any of her other books outside of the Scarpetta series.

FD: Yeah, borderline Mary Sue is a good way to describe it. Kay was a little "too good to be true" in this book - especially in reference to a meldown Marino had in the last book, The Book Of The Dead. She needed to be a lot angrier IMHO, and she doesn't exhibit a whole lot of "fire" here.

JamiSings said...

Be glad you skipped IOD. Totally stupid. Especially Kay's brief appearence. And that one really rips into fat people. The governer and his entire family are overweight, corrupt, with a psycho fat lesbian daughter who always looks greasy.

Seriously, she's got major bigotry issues with fat people.

And of course it seems Kay never ages. Lucy can go from 11 to 20 but Kay is forever 40. Have you ever noticed that Kay thinks everyone is selfish but her? Yet she often comes off as the most selfish of all.

I also read Case Closed - totally blames the mother for Jack The Ripper - or rather the guy she claims is Jack. Surprised she didn't pick a famous fat man for that one.

Deborah Teramis Christian said...

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(aka Deborah Teramis Christian, sf/fantasy novelist)

Wendy said...

Deborah: Perfectly OK to jump in on book comments! Thanks for the shout-out on your blog!