Autopsy (Kay Scarpetta #25), by Patricia Cornwell

Eight stars

Kay Scarpetta is back, after quite the overdue reprieve! Patricia Cornwell returns to the stratosphere to tantalize her longtime fans with another stunning novel in this powerful series. Scarpetta has made her way back to Virginia, hired as its Chief Medical Examiner. Working a stone’s throw from the Pentagon now in a post-pandemic world, Scarpetta will have to make the most of being new around the office once more. She’s called to the scene of a horrific murder by a set of train tracks, one that has connections to people from her past. As Scarpetta tries to piece things together from a medical standpoint, she’s joined by an old friend who is willing to turn over all the rocks for evidence that might locate the killer swiftly. All the while, Scarpetta’s appointment to the Doomsday Commission by POTUS sees them exploring a catastrophic event at a private lab in outer space. Might Scarpetta find parallels between the two cases that could make the investigations all the more troublesome? Cornwell does well as she returns to familiar ground in this superior forensic piece.

After being away for years, Dr. Kay Scarpetta has made her way back to Virginia to oversee the forensic community. Appointed to be the Chief Medical Examiner in an office rife with corruption and sloppy documentation, Scarpetta must try to make all the difference, while being seen as the new girl in town. Still, she’s ready to do her best and has the support of her husband, Bentley Wesley. Together, they live and work only miles from the Pentagon, which has its own ominous feel to it, especially in a still-pandemic world.

Only a few works on the job, Scarpetta is called to the scene of a gruesome find, where a young woman’s body is found close to the railroad tracks, her neck slit and body left to rot. Scarpetta cannot deny the graphic nature of the body dump and can only wonder if there is more to it than a single killing, particularly when a unique item is found on the tracks. After she learns the identity of the young woman, a scientist working on some cutting age technology, Scarpetta learns that her old friend and brother-in-law, Pete Marino, lived next door and knew her well.

After hiring Marino as an investigator with the Examiner’s Office, they begin peeling back all the evidence to see if there’s any way to wrap the case up with ease. Something is not adding up, but there is more to the story than meets the eye, which Scarpetta cannot shake. Her investigation takes on new importance when she suffers her own medical event, after being poisoned by a gifted bottle of wine from someone of great importance in the international policing community.

While work has not let up, Scarpetta must attend to her own major job that brought her back to Virginia, as a member of the President’s Doomsday Commission, which handles major events. When a private lab in outer space suffers what appears to be a major disaster, Scarpetta helps to decipher that the original ‘meteor shower’ hypothesis might not be what killed two scientists, but rather someone who wanted vindication for an old sleight. All this might also have something to do with the body Scarpetta has in the cooler, as it sheds new light on how the cases might be linked. All the while, a serial killer lurks in the shadows and Scarpetta’s intuitiveness could be one reason to remove her from the equation. Cornwell is back to her old self and stunning readers with another great piece, with two feet firmly on the ground.

While I have followed this series for many years, I always thought that Patricia Cornwell had a wonderful handle on things, particularly with her ever-evolving protagonist. However, as the books picked up, Dr. Kay Scarpetta began to lose her lustre and I wondered if it was time to turn towards retirement. Cornwell did shelve Dr. Kay for a bit, but brought her back in this novel, newly minted and ready to take on the world. Things are much crisper and the narrative flows smoothly once again, allowing series fans to feel a sense of confidence in Cornwell once more. I was leery about how things would go with this book, but am confident that there is new life in the series and Dr. Kay Scarpetta once more. Now to see if this was a one-off or return to series writing.

Dr. Kay Scarpetta is back and ready to work hard. Series fans will be familiar with many of her nuances, some of which are back front and centre. Others will find the new Scarpetta fresh and hungering for order once again. With some of her new responsibilities, she keeps her plate full, especially with the work involving the White House. I can only hope that there will be more exploration of this key aspect in her work, which remains up in the air. Scarpetta has made some great friendships and I am eager to see them renewed, with added strength, once more.

Very few series I have read can last as long as this one and still have the needed momentum to keep readers interested. Patricia Cornwell had her slip, but I feel that she’s righted herself once more, recreating the greatness that was Dr. Scarpetta. With a well-developed narrative and strong story, Cornwell treats readers to a piece on par with some of the early works of the formidable medical examiner. Things build, as the reader gets reacquainted with Scarpetta and new (returning) characters make their mark. A few key plot twists provide some thrilling action and leave the reader unsure where things might go, but alway hoping for the trademark spice and smarmy nature that Scarpetta can bring to a story. I was pleased to see Cornwell returning to her roots, leaving space exploration for another author, and can only hope that murder trumps what she’s been putting out over the past few years. Bring on more Kay Scarpetta and refine this series!

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for returning to what many feel is your greatest work. I am a dedicated fan, but really feel Scarpetta is where you belong.

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