At Risk (Winston Garano #1), by Patricia Cornwell

Six stars

Shifting gears, Patricia Cornwell pens a novella that introduces readers to a new character with many unique features. Winston Garano works for the Massachusetts State Police, assigned to liaise closely with one of the most power-hungry women who possesses the title of District Attorney. With her eyes on the Governor’s Mansion, she will stop at nothing to get a leg up, literally. While Garano is studying at the National Forensics Academy, he is summoned back from Knoxville to attend to some pressing business. The DA has decided she wants to toss her hat into the ring for the upcoming gubernatorial race and needs an edge. She’s created a new program she calls At Risk, utilising the up-and-coming technology of DNA analysis and seeks to apply it to an old case that might earn her praise and recognition. Funny enough, this case is a murder down in Tennessee, which will allow Garano to continue his studies while bolstering the DA’s image. Dismissing it, Garano mumbles to himself and prepares to head back south when a violent crime hits close to home and he receives a mysterious phone call about this new case, both of which propel him into action. Working alongside a fellow classmate and current Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent, Garano slowly commences piecing it all together. However, the crime in Massachusetts stinks to high heaven as well, forcing him to spend some time looking into this. What was an attempt to help smaller police forces may be a political battle for Massachusetts Governor and Garano cannot be in the middle of it. Cornwell does well in showing off her new crime minion in this shorter story, pulling readers into the fray with the greatest of ease.

It is said you write what you know, which is how Cornwell created and mastered such a wonderful character in Kay Scarpetta. With Winston Garano, things flow nicely and his backstory is one that is surely intriguing, but even with a hook such as his mixed African America/Italian heritage, he does not hold a candle to the great Scarpetta. I felt as though the story sought to skim the water, a filler, perhaps, between writing assignments, as it does not have the pizzazz for which Cornwell is known. I admit to using this novel to fill a small period of time before I launch myself into a larger project. The development of characters is decent enough and the story flows smoothly, though it seems to drift along in spots, as though there is nothing to hold it together and no impetus to draw the story out into areas not foreseen. I did not feel connected or pulled in to see more about Garano as I might have with other characters. That said, it is not a horrid piece of writing by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll finish things off with the follow-up novella and be able to offer something more cogent at that time.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell for attempting to branch out, though perhaps this is more a means of idling as your next Scarpetta masterpiece came to you.