Wednesday 21 March 2018

Review: Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell

Little, Brown, £18.99

Patricia Cornwell is one of the bestselling crime writers in the world, with more than 400 million copies of her thrillers sold so far. Her latest book, Red Mist, is the 19th thriller to feature forensic pathologist Dr Kay Scarpetta, who made her debut 21 years ago in Postmortem, which was an instant bestseller.

It is curious that in all the intervening years there hasn't been a film adaptation of any of the Scarpetta novels, but recent news that Angelina Jolie, with the encouragement of Cornwell herself, is poised to play Scarpetta has divided Cornwell's loyal fan base.

Many fans believe that Jolie, with her sultry, dark good looks, is completely wrong for the role.

They argue that actresses such as Jodie Foster or Glen Close would be far better suited to the part, as Scarpetta is consistently described as a 40-something woman with a short, dirty-blonde haircut.

However, Jolie seems to be very committed to the part, she has Cornwell's enthusiastic support and the movie is now in pre-production. So we are likely to see Dr Scarpetta on the big screen either at the end of next year or in 2013.

Before she became a bestselling author Cornwell had a background in journalism, but she did spend from 1984 to 1990 working as a technical writer at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. And her heroine Scarpetta is a forensic pathologist.

In her latest outing, Red Mist, Scarpetta, who normally resident in Massachusetts, is lured to the deep south of America by a letter from an inmate in a women's prison near Savannah in the brooding Low Country of Georgia.

The woman is Kathleen Lawler, a chronic recidivist who some 30 years previously had been sent to prison for seducing a 12-year-old boy, a pupil of hers called Jack Fielding. By coincidence, Fielding had been Scarpetta's protégé in the early years of his medical career, and more recently had been her deputy chief medical officer in Boston.

Fielding was murdered, shot in the head by his and Kathleen Lawler's love child, Dawn Kincaid, and Scarpetta hopes that by meeting with Lawler she can find some answers to his aberrant behaviour and assuage her guilt over his tragic and violent death.

But so far nothing about her return to the steamy South has gone to plan. The car she rented has not been available and is replaced by a wreck of a van, and her hotel reservation is mysteriously cancelled.

The prison warden, Tara Grimm, while icily polite, seems to know more than she should about Scarpetta's email conversations with Lawler.

As Scarpetta finishes her meeting, Lawler palms her a note, just a cell phone number and a warning to place the call from a payphone. The number seems familiar, and when she calls she is shocked to find Jaime Berger, a high profile New York female DA and her niece Lucy's estranged lover, on the line.

She is even more dumbfounded to find that her head of investigations in Boston, the irascible Pete Marino, whom she thought to be on holidays, is working with Berger.

Berger tells Scarpetta she is under covert investigation by the FBI, and when, within hours of her leaving the correctional facility, Lawler is found dead in her cell Scarpetta realises that she and everyone she holds dear are in deadly danger from a clever and calculating killer who may have killed many times before.

This is Cornwell at her very best, knitting together an intriguing and complex story from strands of fascinating scientific and medical detail; it provides new insights into the character and motivation of her core characters. A must for all Scarpetta fans.

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