My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s often said that a good novel should be shown, not told, and that’s the main problem with Port Mortuary. The first person narration by Kay Scarpetta turns what should have been a compelling hunt for a murderer into a sort of stream reactions by Kay to things that have been kept secret from her. Scarpetta has long been on the cutting edge of forensic pathology, but now she’s facing the brave new world of flybots, packbots, and synthetic biology, which promise to radically change the face of war as we know it. Kay returns to Boston from a sabbatical at Port Mortuary in Maryland, learning how to do virtual autopsies. The minute she arrives, she must deal with the conundrum of a newly delivered corpse that bleeds long after having been declared dead. Her facility is in a mess, terribly mishandled by her assistant, Jack Fielding, and now Kay suspects that she’s being set up for a fall by her former mentor, Dr. Briggs. To make matters worse, she feels estranged from her emotional rocks, her husband Benton, her niece Lucy, and investigator Pete Marino. Finally, she’s struggling with the guilt that still haunts her following her first professional assignment more than 20 years ago, the brutal murder of two American women in South Africa.
Scarpetta has always been emotionally repressed, and now her feelings, which border on paranoia, overwhelm her. Her legendary self confidence deserts her, and over and over she examines her life’s work, her actions, and her omissions. When Fielding appears to have gone over to the dark side, turning the forensic skills he learned from Kay to murder, she can’t come to terms with the situation. Although their reasons for keeping her in the dark about the details of the case are never adequately explained, Briggs, Benton, Marino, and Lucy work behind the scenes to draw disparate threads together, bringing a satisfactory resolution to a very perplexing situation.
A first time reader would be astonished to hear that the principal characters in this novel are supposed to be close-knit, loving, and supportive of one another. Kay herself comes across as unstable, to put it mildly, but under the circumstances, with everyone she’s come to trust are evasive with her, that’s understandable. It seems likely that Patricia Cornwell has set up this crisis as a turning point, from which Kay will forge ahead into areas previously unexplored. Let’s hope there’s less talk and more action.