Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Red Mist Thrills This Kay Scarpetta Fan

Dr. Kay Scarpetta has moved on after her near-death experience several months ago. She's working steadily to rebuild the Cambridge Forensic Center, a forensic research company created solely by her and the people she loves. Dawn Kincaid, her attacker, is safely ensconced in prison while awaiting trial. Dawn's mother, also incarcerated but in Savannah, Georgia, has been contacting Kay via letters and email. As the always-curious scientist, Kay travels to Savannah to see what her would-be killer's mother has to say in a face-to-face visit.

Once there, Patricia Cornwell's seasoned medical examiner finds herself tangled in a complicated web of deceit. Her reasons for being called to Savannah turn out a bit differently than she first expected, and Scarpetta's dismay at being deceived almost outweighs her sense of right and wrong. In the end, she agrees to help by working an old case that involves a current female death row inmate -- one who is close to execution.

All of the usual suspects end up in Savannah -- Marino, Lucy, and Benton all make the trek to be near Kay. Readers of recent Scarpetta novels will also remember NYC prosecutor Jaime Berger, who appears in a somewhat different (and highly interesting) role.

Several things pleased me about Red Mist, the latest Scarpetta novel in a string of nineteen about the medical examiner, which Cornwell began writing more than twenty years ago.

First of all, Cornwell places the reader firmly inside Scarpetta's head. In several books, Cornwell switched from first-person point-of-view to third-person, a move that distanced the reader from her main character. According to an interview in December with ABC News, Cornwell stated that she made a definite decision to switch back to Scarpetta as narrator.
Books such as "Predator," "Trace" and "Book of the Dead" replaced Scarpetta's first-person narration with an omniscient third person that directly exposed readers to the sadistic imaginings of the perpetrator, which the author began to feel uncomfortable with. 
"I started finding it was disturbing to me. I couldn't sit in my chair for very long. I couldn't eat at my desk anymore. I grossed myself out. I never eat at my desk anymore," Cornwell said. "In the early books, you hold Scarpetta's hand. It's a much safer journey from her point of view."
Another thing that made me glad (and that kept me up nights reading this novel) was that Cornwell returned to the older days of her Scarpetta novels, in which the focus was truly on the ME's character. In a few of the novels, Scarpetta hardly seemed the point. Rather, the novels were a jumping point for Cornwell to write about the government and the military. While Scarpetta's role as a military ME does factor into Red Mist in a small way, much larger is the focus on her as a human being.

Relationships between the long-standing characters rank high on Cornwell's list of important themes in Red Mist. Not only do readers experience some details about the inner workings of Kay and Benton's marriage, but there are also some key moments in Kay's relationships with both Lucy and Marino.

In addition to all my reasons for being glad, Patrica Cornwell spins a darn good yarn in Red Mist. Even readers unfamiliar with Scarpetta and her motley crew will appreciate the nuanced plot of this novel. I did feel as though the end wrapped up rather quickly, but then again -- the novel is more than 500 pages long, and I had been staying up to the wee hours of morning to finish it. So perhaps the ending could have been slowed if I had read it at a normal pace!

For my review of Cornwell's last Scarpetta novel, Port Mortuary, click here.

1 comment:

  1. The great thing about Patricia Cornwell's books is that you do not have to read them in sequence. You can pick up the nineteenth and enjoy it on its own merits. There was a great interview with her on The Nook Report Radio show with Elaine Charles. You can listen to it on



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