Crime fiction,  Forensic,  Medical Humanities

Postmortem (Scarpetta #1) by Patricia Cornwell

I didn’t think I would read another book before the new year began. These days are filled with family meetings, lots of food presents to enjoy and cosy evenings in bed watching films. So, when the always wonderful Mr B&R gave me my Christmas presents, I couldn’t believe my luck: all films and books! Lucky me, I started browsing the books and felt immediately attracted to one of the titles: Patricia Cornwell’s two first novels on the Scarpetta series: Postmortem and Body of Evidence. Although they come together in one volume, I will review them separately since I’ve planned to read another book between them

From Book Depository:

A serial killer is on the loose in Richmond, Virginia. Three women have died, brutalised and strangled in their own bedroom. There is no pattern: the killer appears to strike at random – but always early on Saturday mornings. So when Dr Kay Scarpetta, chief medical officer, is awakened at 2.33 am, she knows the news is bad: there is a fourth victim. And she fears now for those that will follow unless she can dig up new forensic evidence to aid the police. But not everyone is pleased to see a woman in this powerful job. Someone may even want to ruin her career and reputation …

I started hearing a lot about Patricia Cornwell this year. Her last Scarpetta novel was published, then I saw her on a Criminal Minds episode being praised by the geeky and lovely Dr Spencer Reid and finally, she showed up on an academic article I was reading. So, I insisted on how much I wanted to read her novels and how I thought Dr Kay Scarpetta would be the kind of character I would like being a medical examiner. And I was right, I loved her.

Postmortem was written and published in 1990 and has a clear 1990’s flavour, it is clearly dated in that aspect: DNA analysis is still something new and PCs are a technological wonder only available for professionals and rich people. I personally grew up with a computer at home and hearing about DNA, so while I was reading how DNA analysis may not be accepted at court, it sounded weird, outdated, but still lovely. This was the time of no mobile phones, no total and complete access to the Internet and all the information it contains.

Regarding the plot, it as the perfect rhythm which will make you stand on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. It is divided into chapters with the perfect length but that will keep you up till the wee hours of the day, they are the kind of  “just one more” chapters that end with a mystery that will make it impossible to put the book down. There is also a remarkable amount of scientific terminology, but Cornwell makes forensics easy to understand for the reader, no wonder she’s known to be the creator of the “forensic thriller”. No scientific or medical knowledge is needed, but those who have them will enjoy the descriptions and have fun examining the technological developments since 1990.

There are no words to describe Kay Scarpetta. She is the kick-ass main female character you’d like to meet, be friends with or even emulate. Like many of our modern detectives, she is flawed, but she is also intelligent, compassionate, a hard-working woman in a male-lead world who needs to stand up for herself just because she is a woman and, as a consequence, underrated. Scarpetta is an inspiration and a character you love to spend your time with and with every page you turn, you get to peer at her inner life until she becomes a deep, complex character.

One quick word about the edition shown in this post: It is part of a collection of the 20 novels Kay appears in. Volume I includes the first two novels published in a hardback, high-quality edition. What I loved the most is that coat seems to actually be stained with blood: if you leave the book around, a quick glance will make you think there is some stain on the coat. When looked directly you can clearly see a big, red stain with smaller drops around. It caught my attention because of how original and effective this little detail was. Cover designs like this one are much appreciated!

Finally, I would like to comment on the crimes she investigates. Don’t panic, no spoilers here, but just a word for future readers: I was a little bit scared, or let’s say revolted. They could easily be taken out of a Criminal Minds episode and even though I like the TV show, there are days I cannot watch it, it’s too much. Postmortem is not one of those episodes I could not watch, but it is definitely much more violent and upsetting than Kate Atkinson’s or cosy mystery. I would only recommend Cornwell to real fans of crime novels.

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