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Autopsy: A Scarpetta Novel

Review

Autopsy: A Scarpetta Novel

The word is derived from the Greek autopsia: to see for oneself.

The art of the autopsy is the skill in which Dr. Kay Scarpetta specializes, and it also provides us with the title of the long-awaited 25th entry in Patricia Cornwell’s wildly successful series.

For those who have been there from the very beginning, it has been fun to see Scarpetta and all the regulars in these books grow and mature. Cornwell was the first author to really use forensic science as the basis for her fiction, and it’s a style that often has been imitated by others. In AUTOPSY, Scarpetta is taking on the highest profile role of her career: a spot on the National Emergency Contingency Coalition (aka the Doomsday Commission), which meets at the Pentagon.

"AUTOPSY is quite a unique entry in Cornwell’s series as Scarpetta is facing a killer who seems to know her intimately."

Scarpetta and her husband Benton Wesley, a forensic psychologist with the U.S. Secret Service, are living in the area of Alexandria, Virginia, known as Old Town. In her new job, Scarpetta has inherited an obsessive-compulsive secretary, Maggie, who is clearly upset that her previous boss is no longer working with her. The dynamic between these two makes for some of the novel’s best scenes.

A body has been found by the railroad tracks not too far from Scarpetta’s new home. The deceased female has been split from throat to spine, almost as if a zipper was in the middle of her torso. The corpse is displayed in such a way that incoming trains would get a good look at the grisly sight. Scarpetta reaches out to her old partner in crime, Pete Marino, to see if he would accept the pro bono assignment of working the murder case from the criminal perspective.

Their Jane Doe does not stay unidentified for long. Scarpetta hears a news report about an employee of nearby Thor Laboratories who has gone missing. Putting the clues together, the body is correctly identified as Gwen Hainey, a 33-year-old biomedical engineer. Was she targeted for her profession, or merely a victim in the path of a brutal serial killer?

While Scarpetta is working the case, a tragedy occurs at a top-secret laboratory located in space on the ship Dream Chaser. At this point, the Doomsday Commission steps in and has her take on this assignment, which in essence makes her the first forensic specialist to work a crime scene in space. The apparent murders that took place there also seem to be the work of a serial killer. Scarpetta relies on her experience to recognize that there are no coincidences. If that is the case here, who would target victims who fall within her new domain, and where will it go from here?

AUTOPSY is quite a unique entry in Cornwell’s series as Scarpetta is facing a killer who seems to know her intimately. As such, the revelation of the guilty party will shock readers when they realize just how close this individual is to her. As the series continues to evolve, I am curious to see where Scarpetta’s new job takes her next.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 10, 2021

Autopsy: A Scarpetta Novel
by Patricia Cornwell

  • Publication Date: November 30, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0063112191
  • ISBN-13: 9780063112193