I didn’t think I was going to be read any more Patricia Cornwell, but then I did. I was drawn back by this book being available for me in an audiobook, and because I still live in Richmond (even though I swear this book and the previous book never feels like it actually takes place in Richmond–I’ll come back to this). The other reason is that unlike other books about the same time, for example John Grisham, there’s a casual prejudice in these books that can’t really be accounted for. This novel begins with a body, a youngish writer has been murdered in her home in a (more or less) rich part of Richmond, and evidence shows that she had been stalked, but had also take precautions. So her being dead, with her alarm not triggered in her house, with some confusing forensic evidence at the scene. So looking into it further she finds that this writer was the former ward and protégé of a recluse Virginia writer (who is not exactly figured on William Styron, but the description of his one book sounds like Styron’s first book) and had mostly published historical romances. We also find that one of Kay Scarpetta’s law school love has returned to her life to give her a warning about this case, as it might be connected to some nasty entertainment law business out of New York.
So my two criticisms from the first book return: it doesn’t feel like Richmond at all. For all the namedropping that happens in this book, it’s a Richmond mostly devoid of Black people (which Richmond is not), and it’s a Richmond with no sense of geography. There’s a reference to “Southside” but there’s no talk about the river. The James River dominates the city, especially if you’re north versus south of the river.
Two, for reasons that escape me in terms of character or story, there’s a casual anti-gay sentiment that runs this book. In the first book, there’s a gay character and partly Kay is trying to reckon with her feelings, so maybe that explains it there, but here, there’s tons! (dozens, no joke) of casual slurs just through out left and right, and while it might be “part of the times” it makes no sense in this book. The “part of the times” explanation doesn’t work for me always because it still has to make sense in the story and also an author is the one putting it there. So to have Marino, a tough-talking cop whose only personality trait is to say f** all the time is pretty weak writing.
The book overall, I think, is better than the first, but these problems plague them both.