Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Scarpetta Factor

Mark Sanderson - The Evening Standard

CHRISTMAS is coming but the festive spirit is sorely missing in freezing, credit-crunch New York. Everyone feels bad: Kay Scarpetta, Benton Wesley, Pete Marino and Lucy Farinelli are haunted by their gruesome pasts. If these names mean nothing to you it is unlikely that you will get the most out of the 17th novel to feature the scalpel-wielding Scarpetta. However, even if the characters’ histories are complete mysteries, The Scarpetta Factor will still prove to be a satisfying thriller.

The Title refers to a TV show which CNN hopes the forensic pathologist will host. Until now Scarpetta has, against her better judgment, only been a contributor to another crime show fronted by an unscrupulous bitch. The loss of her BlackBerry – a present from her niece, Lucy the lesbian loose cannon – at the TV station causes panic among her inner circle. Meanwhile, there is the murder of a young female runner and the disappearance of Hannah Starr a crooked financier, to investigate. Then someone delivers a bomb to Scarpetta’s apartment. The suspects include a wicked witch, a sleazy Hollywood heart-throb and an arch-enemy of Benton, Scarpetta’s husband, whose sudden return from the dead a few years ago is still causing problems.

Cornwell conjures up a grave new world in which “nothing makes sense and everything does”. She digs deeper into her characters’ psyches than ever before: the result is richer and more mature. The techno-speak and state-of-the-art gizmos, the twists and thrills, are present and correct but the prose is mostly a higher quality than usual. To describe, for example, a charred window frame as “alligatored” is brilliant. Cornwell has never written better.

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