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Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

I enjoy Patricia Cornwell's books and was pleased to find on I hadn't read.

The Blurb

Kay Scarpetta has been training at the Dover Port Mortuary, mastering the art of 'virtual autopsy' - a groundbreaking procedure that could soon revolutionise forensic science. And it is not too long before these new skills urgently need to be put into practice. A young man drops dead, apparently from a heart condition, eerily close to Scarpetta's home. But when his body is examined the next morning, there are stunning indications that he may have been alive when he was zipped inside a pouch and locked in the cooler.

When the revolutionary 3D radiology scans reveal more shocking details about internal injuries unlike any Scarpetta has ever seen, she realizes that this is a case of murder - and that she is fighting a cunning and uniquely cruel enemy. Now it is a race against time to discover who and why before more people die. But that time is running out . . .

The Review

Port Mortuary is the eighteenth book by Patricia Cornwell featuring Dr Kay Scarpetta. She might not be the warmest of heroines, but she is certainly one of the most compelling. I usually enjoy Patricia Cornwell’s books and have read several of them, so I was pleased to find one that was new to me in our library.

Port Mortuary is written in the first person. It is the first time Cornwell has done so for a long time. In doing so she reveals unexpected secrets about Scarpetta’s past that go some way to explaining the detachment of the medical examiner.

Scarpetta is called home to Massachusetts, USA after six months on a military airbase. The body of a young man who apparently died of a heart attack begins to bleed in the morgue. Was he alive when he was shut in the cooler? As Scarpetta investigates his bizarre internal injuries, she begins to discover connections between his death and the shocking murder of a boy, killed in a most horrific way: nails were hammered into his head. The tale is a real thriller with twists and turns.

The hunt for the killer takes place over just a few days and Scarpetta becomes increasingly sleepless, panicked and exhausted. The temperature drops and the snow falls. Scarpetta becomes more and more suspicious of those around her. Even her husband, Benton Wesley, her old friend Pete Marino and her niece Lucy appear to know things they aren’t telling her.

Cornwell presents us eventually with a psychotic, scary villain, and disturbing glimpses of robotic technology being developed for use in war. The scariest bit of all is in an explanatory note to the readers at the start of the book: all of the robotic technology is real.

However, the real heart of this thriller lies in the insights it gives into the character of its heroine. She is accused of racism at the start of the novel by the angry mother of a dead black soldier, then begins circling obsessively around a moment from her youth when she performed an autopsy on two dead white girls in South Africa about which she feels very guilty.

It might lack the urgency, the thrills, of some of Cornwell’s novels but Port Mortuary is an interesting book. I enjoyed it, although it did confuse me in bits. The story is really less about the chase than about why the chase is happening, still, it is worth a read.

The Author

In 1990, Patricia Cornwell sold her first novel, Postmortem, while working at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. An auspicious debut, it went on to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity Awards as well as the French Prix du Roman d’Aventure prize—the first book ever to claim all these distinctions in a single year. Growing into an international phenomenon, the Scarpetta series won Cornwell the Sherlock Award for best detective created by an American author, the Gold Dagger Award, the RBA Thriller Award, and the Medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her contributions to literary and artistic development.

Today, Cornwell’s novels and iconic characters are known around the world. Beyond the Scarpetta series, Cornwell has written the definitive nonfiction account of Jack the Ripper’s identity, cookbooks, a children’s book, a biography of Ruth Graham, and two other fictional series based on the characters Win Garano and Andy Brazil. While writing Quantum, Cornwell spent two years researching space, technology, and robotics at Captain Calli Chase’s home base, NASA’s Langley Research Center, and studied cutting-edge law enforcement and security techniques with the Secret Service, the US Air Force, NASA Protective Services, Scotland Yard, and Interpol.

Cornwell was born in Miami. She grew up in Montreat, North Carolina, and now lives and works in Boston and Los Angeles.

Val Penny

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