Saturday 17 March 2018

Review: Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Little Brown, €23.99, Paperback

A new Patricia Cornwell thriller is always a major event. But her own life is equally interesting. Born in Miami, she studied English and became a reporter but then joined the office of the Chief Medical Officer in Virginia as a technical writer, sparking her interest in forensics.

The first Kay Scarpetta thriller, Postmortem, was eventually published in 1990, having been turned down by seven major publishing houses. It was the first crime novel to scoop five major international awards in a single year and became an international bestseller.

There has been a new Scarpetta tale virtually every year since, and the series has made Cornwell extremely wealthy, although she is in the process of suing her financial advisers over the loss of $40m (€30m).

She is a qualified helicopter pilot and scuba diver, and loves fast motorbikes, Ferraris and, since she turned 50, cosmetic surgery. Her personal life has been controversial. She is a lesbian, and a relationship with the wife of an FBI agent ended in a major scandal. In 2005 she married Staci Ann Gruber, a Harvard-based psychiatrist, although this fact was not revealed for two years.

Port Mortuary is the 18th Kay Scarpetta adventure. She has been away from her headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for six months, on duty with the armed forces carrying out virtual autopsies using new state-of-the-art 3D imaging radiology and CT scans on American soldiers killed in action. Her deputy, Dr Jack Fielding, has let things slide in her absence. Staff morale is low, and now Fielding has gone to ground, having made some strange decisions in the horrific death of a six-year-old boy.

Worse still, Scarpetta feels that her husband, ex-FBI agent Benton, her indiscreet investigator Pete Marino and her lesbian niece Lucy Farinelli are hiding something from her.

Her first task is to discover why a young man dropped dead close to her and Benton's home. When she examines his body, the new 3D imagery reveals internal injuries unlike any she has ever seen. Furthermore, he appears to have had access to ultra-sophisticated robotic technology made for warfare. Then evidence surfaces that her missing deputy may have been using revolutionary mood-enhancing drugs delivered directly to the brain by an organically engineered delivery system, leading Scarpetta and her team to realise a cunning and technically sophisticated enemy is stalking them.

This is vintage Cornwell, full of the technical detail that fascinates her fans, although the squeamish may want to skip some of the post-mortem descriptions.

Irish Independent

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