Patricia Cornwell is one of the world's major international best-selling authors, translated into thirty-six languages across more than fifty countries. She is a founder of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, a founding member of the National Forensic Academy, a member of the New York OCME Forensic Sciences Training Program's Advisory Board, and a member of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital's National Council, where she is an advocate for psychiatric research. In 2008 Cornwell won the Galaxy British Book Awards' Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year - the first American ever to win this prestigious award. Her most recent bestsellers include Scarpetta, Book of the Dead and The Front. Her earlier works include Postmortem - the only novel to win five major crime awards in a single year - and Cruel and Unusual, which won the coveted Gold Dagger award in 1993. Dr. Kay Scarpetta herself won the 1999 Sherlock Award for the best detective created by an American writer.
The decision to abandon her forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta (Body of Evidence; Cause of Death; etc.) leaves Cornwell lacking more than a fail-safe series heroine. The only credible element in this novel is the urban New South setting. The story-about two women top cops and a young male newspaper reporter in Charlotte, N.C.-is routine fare at best. The three characters-42-year-old Deputy Chief Virginia West; her boss, unhappily married Chief Judy Hammer; and handsome wunderkind journalist and volunteer cop, Andy Brazil-are preternaturally competent automatons, obsessive and utterly devoid of self-awareness. A sequence of serial killings of out-of-towners, men who are pulled from their rental cars, sexually mutilated, marked with orange spray paint and shot, creates tension in Charlotte. While Hammer struggles with city politics and a depressed, obese husband, West contends with Brazil (a "handsome and fierce" 22-year-old with "total photographic recall"), who is on assignment to write about police activity, having impressed his editor by turning in "a hundred of hours' overtime five months in a row." Rather than reveal her characters through their words and actions, Cornwell forces them on us predigested ("West believed women were great"; "Brazil did not believe prostitution was right."). In that same descriptive mode, she takes them on roller coaster rides of extravagant emotion-rage, grief, resolve, despair-and offers set pieces in place of plot: mid-book, more than 150 pages pass without mention of the murders. We are made privy to the fantasies of West's cat, but not to the motivations behind the killings. There is nothing to believe in on these pages beyond Charlotte itself. 750,000 first printing; $500,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections. (Jan.)