The Front (Winston Garano #2), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Cornwell’s sequel to her Winston Garano novella series picks up the pace and gives readers a stronger sense of the man while showing more of the author’s abilities. Set a year after the previous story, Garano is again summoned to help Middlesex County DA Monique Lamont in her latest venture. Seeking to reshape her image after the horrific events of a year ago, Lamont dreams up the ‘No Neighborhood Left Behind’ initiative, where police across jurisdictions in Massachusetts can work together to solve cold cases. Garano is told the test case will be one down in Watertown, where a blind woman was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1962. Lamont offers up a contact for Garano down in Watertown, sending him down there to work. Stump is a take-no-prisoners member of the local police force, with an attitude that could cut diamonds, not hampered when she lost her leg in a motorcycle accident. While Garano begins working the case, he learns from Lamont that there may be another angle of great importance to this case; it could be the first crime committed by the Boston Strangler. Garano has no interest in the fame and political advantage this might have and seeks to piece clues together with a less than cooperative Stump. A YouTube video goes viral that paints the DA in a feminine light, forcing her to revamp her image yet again. When Lamont reveals the Strangler angle to the governor, she adds that she’s enlisted the help of Scotland Yard, as the victim was a British national in America for a year. Seeking to garner major headlines, she can see nothing wrong with this media grab, though few around her share the same enthusiasm. The more Garano works with Stump, the more he learns of her connection to Lamont, back when she was a ruthless prosecutor. Events transpired that put things in a whole different light for Garano and he seeks to solve the case to vindicate Stump more than anything. Through hard work and determination, Garano cracks the case wide open, but things take a turn away from the projected theory, which could jeopardise any advantage that Lamont might have thought she’d possess with a closed case. Cornwell invests more time and effort into this piece, which makes it a more cogent and enjoyable story, more in line with her Scarpetta work. Sure to lure the curious reader.

While the Garano novella series may have stumbled out of the block, Cornwell makes up for that with this piece. No only is our protagonist portrayed a more cutthroat manner, butting heads with Lamont at every turn, but we learn a little more about his grandmother, who raised Winston from age seven. A self-declared witch, Garano must steer his grandmother away from her casting of spells and keep her focus on safety as she advances in age. Cornwell also paints DA Lamont into a corner, touching extensively on the brutal rape she suffered in the previous story and building on it, both from the standpoint of image development and her political ambitions. Using the ornery Stump was a brilliant idea and her connection to Lamont solidifies the case more than the actual evidence, which drives the story forward. While the case itself was nothing outstanding, the assembled pieces did provide an ‘aha’ moment for readers, who could see the delicate nature of a criminal thriller before them. Cornwell does well to draw on her experiences while also differentiating these stories from anything Kay Scarpetta. I am curious to see if Winston Garano will return, as he has been shelved for eight years now. His brief appearance on the written page was well-placed, though he does pale to some of Cornwell’s other work.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell for a great novella. You have shown that you can impress, even in a shorter period of time.