PATRICIA CORNWELL – From Potter’s Field. Kay Scarpetta #6. Scribner, hardcover, 1995. Berkley, paperback, 1996.

   Cornwell is an author whose books I’ve enjoyed somewhat, but judging by her sales, not to anywhere near the extent that others have. A strong female protagonist, serial killer, and big, thick books seem to make a formula for the 80s and 90s. I guess it’d be fair to say that I think her a bit overrated.

   Kay Scarpetta is chief medical examiner for the State of Virginia now, and a consultant to the FBI. As the story opens, her “routine” duties are interrupted by news of a killing in New York that is suspected to be the work of a serial killer who has eluded capture for several years now. Kay is off to New York on the next plane with her Richmond police friend who also assists on serial killer cases and the FBI agent who is also her lover. The killing is indeed the work of their quarry, and as he escalates his activities it becomes apparent that Kay herself is in some way an object of his perverse affections. Who the hunter and who the hunted, indeed.

   Cornwell is a quite competent writer in terms of prose and pacing, but her prose is straightforward and not remarkable, and pacing only becomes a conscious factor when it’s lacking or faulty. Books like this stand or fall on how much you can become involved with the characters, and how much the subject matter appeals to you. Serial killers don’t, to me; my interest in psychopaths is limited. There’s little real suspense in such books, only “thrills” which don’t. Nor do I find Kay Scarpetta or many of the other characters Cornwell creates particularly appealing or interesting. Too, having a personage of Scarpetta’ s rank end up mano a mano with the killer may be de rigueur for books of this nature, but it’s still silly. My affections for Patsy and Kay remain lukewarm, I’m afraid.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #21, August-September 1995