Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Postmortem: Patricia Cornwell, September 26—October 1, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
So here we have it: a murder mystery with no suspects! Or none to speak of at least. Meet Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner, who looks solely at forensic evidence and a bit of psychology, to help the police.
It’s a daring move to stand out in a busy genre, and it pays off. Normally the work of Scarpetta’s department is relegated to (obtusely delayed, grudgingly provided and caveat-ridden) causes and times of death. But not for Scarpetta. Her work is integral to the investigation.
in Cornwell’s first, award-winning, entry in the Scarpetta series, she explores a number of themes very contemporary to the 1990s audience who received it. First, the digitisation of the workplace. Security issues surrounding the advent of computer systems in police and forensic work becomes a key theme. With a rapidly changing world ahead, it’s an almost archaic system of paper reams and floppy discs that some modern readers may not remember. Happily, some of the emergent issues wouldn’t occur today, that in that time and place, and for that staff doing the implementing, it was real. DNA matching is also primitive, and it’ll be fascinating to watch technology develop over the series.
Scarpetta is also unapologetically feminist. In a male industry she’s faced adversity to get to where she is and still feels it. This could get quickly dull. It’s a rhetoric wit’s a truth will not necessarily provide the narrative oomph it needs to be engaging. And in 2016, it’s oft-heard, justified or not.
The new perspective is fascinating, and there’s layers of politics and family drama which make Scarpetta’s a rounded character. The case itself – a strangling sadist who kills women in their beds – has no leads and is entirely reliant on Scarpetta’s work. With suspects sparse and the remit of the police, and the victims naturally dead, it’s her interactions with the staff that take centre stage.
This new series launches with plenty of promise: a brilliant first story that upcoming technological advances and a concentration on a core cast, anchored by a strong and likeable lead, will carry on to be a fantastic collection.