Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Trace by Patricia Cornwell

Author: Patricia Cornwell
ISBN # 0751530778
Publisher: Time Warner
1st Published: 2004
489 pages

Against her own judgment and the advice of Benton Wesley and her niece, Lucy, Scarpetta agrees to return to Virginia as a consultant pathologist on a case involving the death of a fourteen-year-old girl. Accompanied by Pete Marino she finds the once familiar territory of her morgue and her department much changed, and the new Chief Medical Examiner treats her with disdain despite the obvious fact that he is in desperate need of her expertise. But professional as ever, she re-examines the evidence and proves the girl was murdered. She also finds trace evidence which matches that found on an accident victim and at the scene where one of Lucy's operatives was attacked. It is not only a forensic puzzle, but opens up the probability that someone is after those closest to Scarpetta.

The only Cornwell book I read prior to this one was Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed so Scarpetta, as a well-established character was new to me. I accepted that I wouldn’t know any of the back history & was looking forward to reading it, but found that there were several other issues I just couldn’t get past:

  1. It’s written entirely in the present tense, which is something I really don’t enjoy in a novel. I hate the feeling that it gives me – that I’m constantly narrating the story in my head. It prevents me from getting completely submersed in the plot.
  1. The first chapter, in its entirety is devoted to the demolition of a building where Dr Scarpetta once worked. I’m sorry, but I just didn’t care - I wanted to get on with the story.
  1. Constant repetition & over-statement of phrases (the words ‘rigor mortis has come & gone’ were written twice in as many pages – close enough together to make me think I’d actually re-read a page) & names (I don’t need to see the name ‘Edgar Allen Pogue’ in full over & over again – I got the reference to the poet the first time, thank you). This was also evident in the fact that, although she’d already stated several times that a certain young man was a young soldier wearing purple, she then had to re-state ‘the Fort Lee soldier in purple’. It gets tired really quickly.

I tried to persevere, but 14 chapters in I still didn’t really care about or identify with any of the characters or the petty office politics. In fact, the only character I even remotely liked was Marino, & he’d disappeared after about 2 chapters to Gods-only-know-where.

Technical jargon in crime thrillers doesn’t bother me, but I felt she was over-simplifying procedures even at this early stage & this is a book aimed at people who have read the previous titles in the series, so surely they have already established some basic knowledge of forensics & should be credited with a little intelligence.

I couldn’t get invested in any of it. I was left blank trying to work out the strained relationships & wading through dialogue that felt forced.

I’m sure that if I’d read the previous books, I might have enjoyed this, but I really don’t see myself bothering about them. Everything I liked about Portrait of a Killer is lacking here. I just don’t like the style. And there’s no way I’d be able to work my way through that many books if they’re all written in the present tense.

I hate to say it, but I’ve been beaten. I can’t finish it. Therefore, no rating – it wouldn’t be fair.


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