Depraved Heart (Kay Scarpetta # 23), by Patricia Cornwell

Three and a half stars

As Cornwell builds on her highly successful Dr. Kay Scarpetta series, the reader is pulled deep into a psychological thriller that will not let go until the closing chapter. While investigating a mysterious death in Cambridge, Scarpetta is alerted to a message seemingly sent by her niece, Lucy. This message, a link to a surveillance video from almost two decades earlier, shows a vulnerable Lucy with secrets she’s told no one, all of which could implicate her in some highly illegal activities. Scarpetta is unsure what to do or whom to tell, and with no ability to pause or save the clips, she becomes engrossed with her phone and forgets the body before her. What begins as a simple curiosity soon becomes the next round of stalking by Scarpetta’s long-time nemesis, Carrie Grethen, whose past relationship with Lucy is only the tip of the iceberg. How does this video and the body laying before her tie into an attack Scarpetta faced months earlier while diving? And once the FBI raids Lucy’s property, there seems to be nothing that Scarpetta can do to protect her quasi-daughter from a lifetime behind bars. Has Grethen finally found a way to outmanoeuvre Scarpetta and have the last laugh? Will she rise yet again from the ashes and ruin the calm life that Scarpetta has tried to put in place? Cornwell weaves a wonderful story and utilises some of her key characters in this latest instalment, which keeps the reader begging for more.

As with any novel in the Scarpetta series, the reader is presented with wonderful nuances in the medical field, as well as highly detailed technological developments. However, this new approach, an apparent ‘call from the grave’ collection of videos adds a new and somewhat curious perk to an already jam-packed series. With interesting developments unfolding from their content and the surrounding scene during which they were taken, Cornwell takes the reader back in time to remember key scenes from early novels in the series. While touted as a highly psychological thriller and complete with crumbs of foreboding throughout, I felt the story lagged at times and focussed too much on a slow dénouement while most other novels, whose central focus is the body being examined, seem to zip from A to Z while gaining momentum. However, by the twenty-third instalment, one can expect the need to tackle similar situations with an entirely new approach, leaving Cornwell a little leeway to do so.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell for another great piece of writing. What will you bring us next and how do the crumbs left play into the next thriller?