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Book of the Dead


Book of the Dead

Scarpetta, who makes her 15th appearance in Patricia
Cornwell’s BOOK OF THE DEAD, is settled in Charleston, South
Carolina, where she decides to open a private pathology practice.
Her mission is to help local municipalities that don’t have
access to the technology she and her colleagues offer. She
continues to work with Benton Wesley, her lover/colleague; Lucy,
her brilliant niece; Pete Marino, a former cop, a longtime friend
and her investigator; and Ruth, the loyal secretary who has always
followed Scarpetta wherever she moved.

When the story opens, Scarpetta and Wesley are “[i]nside the
virtual-reality theater [with] twelve of Italy’s most
powerful law enforcers and politicians, whose names, in the main,
forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta…and forensic psychologist
Benton Wesley both…the only non-Italians” [in the
room]. Both are…consultants for the International
Investigative Response (IIR), a special branch of the European
Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). They are there
because the Italian government is in a very delicate


Drew Martin, a 16-year-old American tennis player who was on her
way to win the U.S. Open, has been found naked and mutilated
“in the heart of Piazza Navona…the heart of
Rome’s historic district.” As it happens she is not the
only woman whose body has been torn apart in recent days. The
bizarre murders cause outrage all over the world. Dr. Scarpetta,
ever strong in her opinions and observations, goes head to head
with Captain Ottorino Poma, a medico legale in the Arma dei
Carabineri, the military police heading the investigation. He will
argue with her about her observations and findings throughout the


What Scarpetta and Wesley don’t know at first is that behind
the scenes, psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Self, who hates Scarpetta, is
demonically manipulating every aspect of this case. Dr. Self is
determined to take revenge on Scarpetta, even making sure she dies,
because Scarpetta testified against her in a court case that Self
lost. Scarpetta has become her main target, but Self has no
boundaries even when she is responsible for the deaths of others.
Ironically Self has a very popular TV show where she is free to
mess with her guests’ heads while keeping her own dark
secrets locked away in some dungeon where she nurtures her


Back in America, Scarpetta’s niece, a true genius, is
following everyone’s movements as she gracefully hacks into
all of the computers the players are using. She is especially
interested in Self’s email conversation with someone who
calls himself “Sandman.” She and Scarpetta are worried
about Marino who is out of control. A young woman picked him up at
a bar and quickly takes over his life. Marino is a lonely, unhappy
man who is very vulnerable, and this hussy knows it. She gets under
his skin and begins a campaign to break him down for the purpose of
undermining his relationship with Scarpetta. Does she have a
personal agenda? Why in the world does she care about the
friendship between Marino and Scarpetta?


As the forensic team works against time, they start to concede that
one killer is responsible for the actual deaths but may not be
working alone. His “signature” is strange and
grotesque. Scarpetta has always depended on her intuition when
working a case. She is able to see what is “under” the
surface of a crime. This “gift” emerges in full force
after the body of a young boy is found face down in the mud; he had
been starved and beaten to death. This murder can’t help but
humanize the team. Automatically, comparisons are made to the other
victims and adds to the theory that one killer is committing all of
the crimes. Scarpetta is notorious for never closing a case until
she is satisfied that every rock has been overturned to find the
detritus underneath.

While all of this is unfolding, personal problems cast a pall over
the already troubling situation. Scarpetta is trying to understand
what has come between her and Wesley; she is furious with Marino
but doesn’t want to lose him; and suddenly, her indefatigable
secretary, Rose, is acting strangely. Scarpetta is disturbed and
distracted by the events in her personal life, yet she manages to
keep her priorities in order by relying on her skills and common
sense. Fans expect no less from the indomitable Kay


Although Patricia Cornwell began with a very interesting idea, BOOK
OF THE DEAD does not reach the high standards of her previous
works. While the beginning of the novel is engrossing, it has
gaping holes and/or too much unnecessary information. She also
brings characters on stage without giving them some kind of
background, which leaves readers wondering what they are doing
there. A good portion of the narrative is devoted to technical
details, replete with confusing acronyms that don’t move the
plot along in any significant way.


Cornwell’s reputation rests on strong plot lines, well-limned
characters and harrowing intrigue. Hopefully in Scarpetta’s
next appearance, her creator will do a bit more editing to bring
forth the strength of her earlier books.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 7, 2011

Book of the Dead
by Patricia Cornwell

  • Publication Date: September 2, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 042521625X
  • ISBN-13: 9780425216255