Patricia Cornwell

Book of the Dead

"… one of her most entertaining in recent years."


Someone is going around and putting sand in people's eye sockets after they have gouged them out. This character calls himself 'The Sandman' and the target that puts him squarely in the limelight is the murder of a new American Tennis champion, Drew Martin. Her death in Italy had created outrage and Scarpetta and Benton are brought in to help with the swift capture of this heinous maniac and stop his evil, insidious ways.

At the same time, Scarpetta has the corpse of a young boy in her morgue who was killed in the same way as Drew Martin. What connects a nameless unknown with a rising Tennis star? Then a woman who lives in a mansion is found murdered in exactly the same way. It is through her story that Scarpetta begins to get close to the killer, begins to uncover exactly what has been going on and discovers how it has swayed the high emotions that have been clearly evident in her office between herself and Marino. By the end of this case, there will be many casualties, some dead, some still alive…barely.

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Cornwell has suffered a certain amount of criticism in the last few years for not being consistent with her plots. Although I wouldn't say Book of the Dead is her strongest, it is certainly one of her most entertaining in recent years. Let us start with the title. The actual Book of the Dead is the morgue log which is only referred to near the start of the novel and not actually essential to the plot. So why the title? I cannot say. I am not sure whether Cronwell is bored with her character, let us hope not, but it seems that she is certainly putting them through their paces. Lucy has her own health worries, as does Rose, Scarpetta's faithful receptionist/assistant. Scarpetta and Benton are finding it a strain on their relationship to maintain the status quo whilst working and living on either end of the States. The most surprising and most wounded of the tribe has to be Marino. Cornwell certainly puts this poor man through the wringer, making the man plummet to new depths of despair and making him seem genuinely unwelcome and unwanted. The plot of this new novel is more cohesive than previous novels when tighter editing would perhaps have been advisable. The only worry is that, despite Cornwell keeping up a high degree of suspense, she blows it by having the apprehension of the killer over and done with in a few sentences. It did make me feel slightly cheated. However, this book is a marked return to form and even though Cornwell seems to have shaken the box and scattered the cast to the far corners of the earth, I will be very interested as to where she takes her readers next and what she does with her characters. Let us hope she won't be too vicious with them – she has to remember that we have got very attached to some of them over the years and, despite crime fans realising there has to be change, they will not be thrilled to have huge changes brought about on people they feel they have grown up with over the years. If you want to see a glimmer of the old Cornwell/Scarpetta duo, then Book of the Dead will certainly deliver.

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