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Book 123: Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Book 123: Port Mortuary (Kay Scarpetta 18).
Author: Patricia Cornwell, 2010.
Genre: Forensic Crime Thriller
Other Details: Hardback. 496 pages.

I noted last December when reviewing The Scarpetta Factor that Patricia Cornwell seemed to have come out of her slump. Now with her latest book in this series this return to form is confirmed.

Most notable is that she has gone back to first person narration after six novels (Blow Fly to The Scarpetta Factor) in which she switched to an omniscient, third person perspective.It never worked for me and I really missed Kay's voice. The publishers have made note of this significant change on the back cover and inside flap by declaring "we welcome back a voice we haven't heard in years: that of Kay Scarpetta herself." I seriously let out a whoop of joy when I read this.

The story itself was very much old school Scarpetta and some aspects wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Crichton-style techno-thriller. However, Cornwell does preface the book with a note to say that it is a work of fiction, not science fiction, and that the medical and forensic procedures, technologies and weapons in the story do exist today. Also, the return to the first person perspective brings Kay's angstation about her life and the people in it to the fore and provides a fair amount of revelation about aspects of her past that go some way to explain her personality.

So what is it about? Well, Kay Scarpetta has changed jobs again and has been appointed to head up the Cambridge Forensic Center (CFC), a state-of-the-art forensic pathology facility in Massachusetts, which will be the first civilian port mortuary in the USA. However, for the past six months she has been taking advanced training in 'virtual autopsies' at Dover Air Force Base's Port Mortuary. The novel opens with Kay preparing to return home.

She then receives word of an unusual case that is causing great concern back at the CFC. A young man had dropped dead while out walking his dog, apparently of a heart condition. However, when his body is examined the next morning blood is found pooling in the body bag suggesting that he may have been alive when his body was placed in the mortuary cooler. When Kay investigates using the new technology, she finds bizarre internal injuries and an unexpected link to another murder in the district.

Most of the novel takes place in an intense 24-hour period with Scarpetta becoming increasingly anxious and exhausted as events unfold. This pace makes the book almost impossible to put down. Port Mortuary is a strong return to vintage Cornwell and I am just delighted.
Tags: crime fiction, murder mystery, thriller
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