Port Mortuary – Patricia Cornwell

Title – Port Mortuary

Author – Patricia Cornwell

Published – 2010

Genre – Crime fiction

This is book 18 in the Kay Scarpetta series and I’ve been there all the way. I have all the 17 preceeding books (including one signed by PC herself) so I was bound to get this one. But will I get any more?

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 inside the cooler. When the revolutionary 3D radiology scans reveal more shocking details about internal injuries unlike any Scarpetta has ever seen, Scarpetta 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…

Scarpetta is now the Director of the Cambridge Forensic Center in Massachusetts but has spent the last 6 months working with the Air Force in Delaware. Called back to Boston for an urgent case which requires her expertise it seems all has not been well in her absence. There is a chance that a body may have been alive when it was put in the body bag, Scarpetta’s deputy at the CFC is missing, and it’s snowing.

The book starts well with the mystery and the body and some action, but then it somehow gets bogged down in lots of long and boring descriptions which don’t seem particularly relevant and really affect the pace of the book. Reverting back to the first person of earlier books, Scarpetta shares her thoughts with us and goodness she has a lot of them. As ever her relationship with Benton isn’t straightforward, but in this book there is some blurring of what he will and won’t tell her and it isn’t even clear if he is back working with the FBI or not. Although I do have to confess to a spot of speed-reading, so I may have missed something important in amongst all the words.

We were also introduced to a particular episode in Scarpetta’s past, an incident which she was involved in early in her career which was obviously important to her. So after 20 years of telling us about Scarpetta, this comes out. It can’t have been so important then . . .

Where was the increasing body count? Where was the tension? Where was the long list of suspects? Where was the mystery? OK, perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but for a writer who was cutting edge (if you’ll excuse the pun) in writing crime fiction in 1990, she seems to have had quite a change of style. Considering that the story took place over 30 hours or so, it took a long time to get told.

There seems to be a consensus that Cornwell has lost her way and there have been a few duds of late. I have persevered! However this doesn’t convince me that I will need number 19 on my bookshelf.

Score – 3/5

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2 comments

    1. I remmember your post. I will try Red Mist, but agree that she’s past her best. Although I’ve been reading some good crime fiction I haven’t really found a good Cornwell / Scarpetta replacement. I wonder if Tess Gerritsen might be the answer, but don’t have any on my TBR pile yet.
      Read a non-crime Kate Atkinson & wasn’t impressed, but I’ve heard good things from others. I’ll watch for your review!

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