Book Review – Post Mortem (Kay Scarpetta #1) by Patricia Cornwell

First published, 1990

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Kay Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Officer in Richmond, Virginia. A lone woman in a sea of testosterone, Kay has to work that much harder than everyone else to be taken seriously, and she’s got more than enough on her plate anyway.

A serial sex murderer, who stalks lone women to their homes and makes the most of lax security, warm nights and the gathering dark, tortures his victims to death, and every woman who lives on her own begins to feel the terror of the details in the news and the “no comment”s coming from the Chief Medical Officer’s department.

But when Kay’s database is breached and pertinent details of the crime scenes seem, inexplicably, to match the inaccurate press reports, could there be a leak in Kay Scarpetta’s office? And why change the details to match the reporters’ bylines? What is the strange, sweetly-sweating smell detected at one of the crime scenes? What’s with all the glitter? And could a power-hungry, thrusting boyfriend really be a misogynistic torturer?

The pacing of this novel was incredible. The story was powerful and the action never let up. The relationship between Dr Scarpetta and her precocious ten-year-old niece, Lucy, was particularly potent. The writing is sophisticated and the provenance of the author’s knowledge only adds further punch to an already intricately woven tale. To team all of this with a believable, emotionally naive, butterfly-brained ten-year-old left this reader in a whirl.

“The moon was a milk-glass globe through gaps in the trees as I drove through the quiet neighborhood where I lived.
“Lush branches were moving black shapes along the roadside and the mica-flecked pavement glittered in the sweep of my headlights. The air was clear and pleasantly warm, perfect for convertibles or windows rolled down. I was driving with my doors locked, my windows shut, and the fan on low.
“The very sort of evening I would have found enchanting in the past was now unsettling.
“The images from the day were before me, as the moon was before me. They haunted me and wouldn’t let me go. I saw each of those unassuming houses in unrelated parts of the city. How had he chosen them? And why? It wasn’t chance. I strongly believed that. There had to be some element consistent with each case, and I was continually drawn back to the sparkly residue we’d been finding on the bodies. With absolutely no evidence to go on, I was profoundly sure this glitter was the missing link connecting him to each of his victims.
“That was as far as my intuition would take me. When I attempted to envision more, my mind went blank. Was the glitter a clue that could lead us to where he lived? Was it related to some profession or recreation that gave him his initial contact with the women he would murder? Or stranger yet, did the residue originate with the women themselves?”
P200-201, Chapter Nine, Post Mortem (Kay Scarpetta #1) by Patricia Cornwell

Beautiful language, vivid detail, stunning-observed characters and a satisfying conclusion.

Incidentally, this:

Imagine, if you will, how my mouth fell open when I saw that.