Sunday, February 05, 2006

Patricia Cornwell: Postmortem

I've read a few Cornwells before, mostly because I enjoyed Kathy Reichs' books about forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan very much and according to book cover quotes Cornwell is "the original". I haven't taken to them though, and it all comes back to what Amanda Cross says about liking the detective... I don't like Kay Scarpetta. Really. And sometimes you can not like a character and still like them, if you know what I mean - but I really don't like Kay Scarpetta at all. All she has going for her is intelligence. It just isn't enough.

Anyway, so last Sunday we were at dinner with some of my husband's colleagues, and we got talking about crime novels and the man of the house said he liked Patricia Cornwell. I said I didn't, but admitted to having read only later ones, when the plotlines have all become extremely exagerrated and there are more conspiracy theories than in Alias. HE said that no, it's the early ones that are good. So I went to the library to get some early ones, picked up Postmortem (her first, and award-winning novel) and about six pages in I'm beginning to think that hey, this is familiar, I've read this before haven't I? But I can't remember much, hardly anything. (Once again - blog = good.)

So QED - Patricia Cornwell is a little overhyped. Although I can completely see what a breath of fresh air she must've been in the crime novel business back in 1990. She deserves cred for that alright.

Postmortem introduces us to Scarpetta, her niece Lucy (of later lesbian poor judgement - don't you love reading series in the wrong order?) and Marino. A serial killer is strangling single women in Richmond, in a cruel and bestial fashion. There are almost no clues to go on, and the pressure is on the police force, the politicians and of course on Scarpetta, who becomes the victim of a conspiracy aiming to make her scapegoat. She also becomes the focus of the killer, and it all ends in a shoot-out in her bedroom. I really don't feel bad about giving that away, because if you didn't see it coming you don't deserve to read books.

The book is full of forensic detail, including descriptions of the recently discovered DNA technology. It's quite interesting to read, since we now take it for granted so much that we think we understand it even though we don't (I'm talking of people like me, not majoring in science-y subjects). Postmortem also features some computer hacking, in that pre-Windows XP-on-every-computer era. This is also interesting, but it goes way over my head. I'm mostly bemused by genius Lucy's fascination by the computer, since I myself never took to it until I learnt I could surf the net and talk to people. So what if there's a database? What do you do with it if your Auntie Kay has forbidden you to mess about with it? N.b. that these latter thoughts are not what make me unembracing of the book, they're just thoughts...

It's kind of a classic must-read. I think I'll look for no. 2 and see how I feel about that one before I pass final judgement.

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