The following is a SPOILER-FREE review.
All That Remains (1992) by Patricia Cornwell is the third novel in the Kay Scarpetta series. I first heard of this novels via Criminal Minds and last Christmas I got as a present the first two novels, needless to say, I adore them. They are extremely addictive yet Kay is a strong, inspiring and deep main character. So, last week in the midst of some dissertation chaos and a tummy bug, I decided to read All That Remains. It took me three readings and put me through the week.
In All That Remains, Kay Scarpetta faces one of the most difficult cases of her career. For two years and a half, teenager couples driving through Virginia have been taken out of their cars and killed miles away, just for their bodies to be found months afterwards. This has affected her reputation as medical examiner, with the media questioning her capacities. But the last of the cases, the one that opens the novel, is different. One of the victims is the daughter of an ambitious, Republican politician known as the Drug Czar for her crusades against drug trafficking. This will only add up to Kay’s already stressful and unfair situation.
As you know, I adore crime novels and Patricia Cornwell’s are the perfect mix of commercial, easily fiction with a complex main character and the reputation of being the creator of the forensic science trend that ever since has percolated to TV with shows as famous the CSI Series. Like the previous ones, this is also very addictive – I actually read more than 200 pages in one day because I found it impossible to put it down. Conrwell’s prose has a quick pace and cliffhangers are very common in the ending of chapters, making it the perfect one-more-chapter novel with which to stay up reading til 2 a.m.
The case reminded me very much of the Zodiac Killer. If you’re familiar with crime fiction, the Zodiac Killer case is as famous as a case can be, usually featured in other crime fiction productions and especially on TV. There is even a great movie starring Robert Downy Jr that I highly recommend if you’re interested in the case. Basically, The Zodiac Killer killed couples inside their parked cars in Northern California in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. His identity still remains unknown and has been the source of several both fiction and non-fiction works since the crimes were committed.
The fact that Cornwell chose a similar MO was very interesting and threw a lot of light into how the FBI and police officers approach these cases. I was surprised by the many layers of jurisdiction – just a fancy word for “secrecy” – can be in such investigations and how biased is the information someone as important as a medical examiner can get. However, it should be noted that the novel dates from 1992 and the procedures, techniques and technology used are very much outdated nowadays. One of the things that strikes me the most is the total freedom everyone enjoys regarding smoking. Seriously, Kay may be conducting a postmortem and detective Marino would me smoking all around her and the corpse. This is incredibly surprising for me – a child of the very, very late 1980’s – but I guess it still seems pretty normal for people who were adults at the time the novels were published.
Finally, I do recommend All That Remains as much as I recommend any other Kay Scarpetta novels. I think they are perfect when you’re looking for an easy read yet they are complex enough not to be considered beach reading. Kay is a very complex character and key feminist issues always appear in relation to her life: how a woman had (we still have, though) to work harder than a man and the constant scrutiny that comes from having an important job and also the hardships of finding balance between professional and personal. She is also very empowering in that she’s always working hard, sleep-deprived and sometimes forgets to eat. Sadly, we’ve all been there, right? So it comes as a relief to find other women who face even greater stress!