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In her fourteenth Kay Scarpetta mystery, Patricia Cornwell has
woven her characters into elements of the same case (albeit without
their knowledge). They are all on edge about their personal lives,
relationships, and especially their long dependence upon and
affection for each other. The mutual trusts that have been so
hard-won over the years are steadily eroding, and in PREDATOR,
long-buried resentments, unresolved anger and desperation erupt
among the members of this once cohesive in-group, thus setting
forth a novel essentially structured around the collective ennui of
the regular characters. Of course, murder and mayhem ooze with
expected horrors, but just as important in this book is the
interesting interchanges that occur as the cast tries to cope and
reach out to one another for support.

For Cornwell to set her crew at such a crossroads is the move of a
courageous writer who has faith in her talent and understands her
audience. The complicated and very creepy story works within this
architectural schematic, and Cornwell is able to deliver a highly
charged, rather spooky novel with her usual panache.

Kay is now the head of the National Forensic Academy in Hollywood,
Florida, a teaching and research institution established by her
niece Lucy. Her friend and lover, Benton Wesley, is now running a
research study at McLean Hospital in Boston called "PREDATOR," an
acronym for the Prefrontal Determinants of Aggressive-Type Overt
Responsivity, a secret neuropsychological project to determine if
dangerous murderers have different brain patterns and/or functions
than "ordinary" people. The experiments such as brain mapping tests
are done on machines like MRIs, and the focus is on Basil Jenrette,
who has been in prison for years but all of a sudden admits to a
murder that was never reported as such. He is a "lady killer" who
feels no remorse and says he will certainly kill again if given the
chance. Unfortunately, the doctor in charge of the experiments is a

Meanwhile, Lucy is on some sort of a mission for Benton and
struggling with her own demons. She excoriates herself about
changes in her body and her reckless habit of "hooking up" with
strangers for one-night stands. She is in Provincetown,
Massachusetts, where a beautiful young woman with whom she spends
the night and who stalks her in the morning seduces her.

Pete Marino, a former Virginia detective, is in Florida too. He is
the Academy's head of investigations and a part-time investigator
at the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office. "Of late he looks
like a parody of a biker thug…his huge, tattooed arms bulging
from a sleeveless denim vest with the Harley logo on the back." He
has morphed into an over-the-hill compulsive bodybuilder with a
shaved head who outfits himself in full leather regalia, which he
believes further promotes his machismo. And the chip he's always
carried on his shoulder has been allowed to reach mile-high

Rose, Kay's loyal secretary, maintains her supporting role as
factotum, mediator and "mother." She tries in vain to ground the
group and keep some sort of harmony alive among them all.

As the book opens, Kay is trying to spend a romantic week in
snowed-in Boston with Benton Wesley. They have not seen each other
for a while and have been looking forward to this winter holiday
for weeks. But a phone call triggers a series of events that force
them to postpone. As Kay is getting ready to leave her office, she
sees Pete drive up on his Hog. He asks if she knows anything about
the Johnny Swift case. She doesn't. Swift was a San Francisco
doctor with an office in Miami, and he and his brother had a place
in Hollywood on the beach. "About three months ago at Thanksgiving
while [Swift] was at his place down here, his [twin] brother found
him on the couch, dead from a shotgun wound to the chest. By the
way, he'd just had wrist surgery and it didn't go well. At a
glance, a straightforward suicide." But was it? And who would want
to kill a California neurosurgeon anyway?

From this point, the plot begins its tortuous trek over and under
bodies, asylums, betrayals, kidnappings, disappearances, quarrels,
deceptions and torture --- all enmeshed in craziness only someone
like Patricia Cornwell could dream up. She goes pretty heavy on the
gore and explicit torture, but readers can skip those lines without
losing any of the story's force. By any standards it is a gruesome
tale told with authority and verve. At first, Cornwell's fans may
be put off by the personal elegies and the many changes fate has
imposed upon the familiar cast. The grotesqueries of the crimes
will raise hackles and may seem disjointed. But once the threads of
each event are untangled and a clear picture emerges, readers will
agree that PREDATOR is one of Patricia Cornwell's best works to

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 19, 2011

by Patricia Cornwell

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425210278
  • ISBN-13: 9780425210277