Not sure if it is the snow and ice making me feel murderous, but I have spent the last few days reading more crime, albeit a bit more graphic and unpleasant than the new Wexford which was my first read of 2010.
The Dr Scarpetta books of Patricia Cornwall have been impinging on my consciousness for some time now and the thought that mmm she sounds interesting lurking alongside and last summer when hunting through bookshops in Cambridge, I found an omnibus of three of her novels at a silly price in a remaindered store so brought it home. I then left it to await its moment and the time finally arrived this week when the conditions outside and the enforcfed stay indoors sent me to my to be read pile.
This omnibus has three titles, Cause of Death, Unnatural Exposure and Point of Origin (the omnibus itself seems to be out of print but the individual titles are available). I have no idea of how many books there are in this series nor their time line and these three were written about ten/eleven years ago. Cause of Death opens with Dr Scarpetta called out to look at a body thirty feet below the icy surface of the Elizabeth river in a disused navy shipyard. She recognises the body as a local reporter and as the story continues and she finds she is meeting with difficulties and obfuscation in her investigation, it is clear that the victim was poking his nose in where he was not wanted.
My initial response to this book, even when I had finished it, was that it was pretty rambling and seemed more intent on setting the scene and describing the characters than any actual action. If this was the first in the series, then this is understandable, but if not, then it lacked drive. The final few chapters which covered a Waco style cult taking over a nuclear power station was rushed and scrappy with an unsatisfactory ending and I did wonder whether to bother reading the other two in the volume.
However, I persisted as I know that sometimes it can take time to get into the style and processes of a writer and to get to know the characters. The Inspector Montelbano books of Camilleri being a perfect example of this - met with initial indifference by me, I am now addicted to them. So onto the second, Unnatural Exposure and this time we find Scarpetta on the trail of a serial killer until a tenth corpse turns up and she realises that this is wildly different - the person has died a horrible death which looks suspiciously like smallpox and panic sets in when it is clear that there is somebody out there in possession of a virus and is using it.
The third, Point of Origin is pretty gruesome as it involved Scarpetta in an investigation into a burned out farmhouse where somebody has been viciously murdered and a fire used to cover this up. I will admit to skipping some pages and avoiding the meticulous detail given when it came to the autopsy and examination as I found it stomach churning - I am assuming from all the detail given here that Patricia Cornwall herself must have a medical background, otherwise I would find it hard to believe she could write so forensically, no pun intended, about it all.
There is another strand running through this particular title - Carrie Grethen, a killer who has obviously appeared in an earlier title, has escaped from a secure hospital and it is clear that somehow she is involved in this particular murder and fire and others and is stalking Dr Scarpetta. Very exciting story which ends up with a helicopter chase and a tragedy which took me by surprise and my reaction to it showed me that I had become more involved with the characters than I had thought.
So, three down and yes, I would now like to read the rest. Back story of the protagonists is in place, Dr Kay Scarpetta who has had to fight for her place in forensic medicine, her niece Lucy who she has more or less brought up and who she loves as a daughter, Wesley Benton, Kay's long term lover who she is unwilling to commit to and local cop Marino, overweight, living off cigarettes and fast food, who is devoted to her though he would rather die than admit it, and she him. I found that once I had a grip on these characters then I became more and more interested in the stories themselves.
These kind of murder and mystery stories are light years away from the world of DL Sayers, Ngaio Marsh or Agatha Christie, which are my main source of crime, but I will admit that after this slightly shaky start I found the stories compelling and I now intend to read more of Patricia Cornwall.
Pretty sure that many of you out there will have read these books and, if so, what do you think of them? I would be interested to know.