New York Time’s Best-Selling author, Patricia Cornwell, once again has a hit novel. Red Mist is the 19th book in the Kay Scarpetta series. Cornwell originated the modern-day forensic thriller twenty years ago with her first novel in this series, Postmortem.
Cornwell uses her experiences to formulate realistic plots. She commented on CNN that because she was sexually abused by a female when she was a child most of the villains in her stories are women. Some of her many credentials are: the former Director of Applied Forensic Science at the National Forensic Academy, to founding the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine. With these credentials the reader knows they are getting an author who is informed and knowledgeable. Cornwell has stated that she is not content with sitting back but keeps up with the latest forensic techniques, working with law enforcement and forensic professionals since “it is important to me to live in the world I write about… If I want a character to do or know something, I want to do or know the same thing.” This is evident in Red Mist since the science and techniques used in the book have a very real feel and are easily understandable.
This book’s plot picks up where the previous one left off. What Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the Chief Medical Examiner and Director at the new Cambridge Forensic Center in Massachusetts, discovers is that the death of her assistant, Jack Fielding, and the attempt on her own life were only the beginning of a string of vicious murders and possible biological warfare. Determined to find out what happened to her former deputy chief murdered six months earlier, Scarpetta travels to the Georgia Prison for Women, where an inmate, Kathleen Lawler has information not only on Fielding, but also on a string of violent killings. Cornwell brilliantly intertwines the murder of an Atlanta family years ago, a young woman on death row, and the inexplicable deaths of those she has come into contact with. For those who have never read a book in this series Cornwell has a very detailed first half of the book, rehashing and explaining the characters and plot.
The villains are well defined: Kathleen Lawler, who sexually molested a boy, Jack Fielding, Dawn Kincaid, the “love child” conceived by Fielding and Lawler, and Lola Daggette, on death row for the killing of the Atlanta family. In the book Lawler is described as “…remorseless and pitiless, completely lacking in empathy for anyone…” Cornwell balances that description with the victims who are described as having “no rights while they’re being victimized and few rights during the slow, tedious grind of the criminal justice process. The injuries don’t heal but continue to be inflicted, by lawyers, by the media, by jurors, by witnesses who testify that someone like me had it coming or caused it.”
The heroine of the book, Scarpetta, comes across as capable and confident in her work, highly committed to solving the murders; yet, in her personal life appears to have self doubts, and often does an introspective. The guilt she feels about going away angry is something any reader can identify with and Cornwell skillfully points out “the dead talk. Everything predicated on the possibility of someone dying or something that could cause death…Don’t go away after arguing. What if the person gets killed in a car wreck or struck by lightning or blows an aneurysm?”
The supporting cast for Scarpetta, her husband, niece, and co-worker, seem like they were just afterthoughts. They did not have a strong role in the book and were not as well defined as the other characters referred to earlier.
There is a lot of detective work, connection of dots, and mystery involved in this novel. The first part of the book is used to formulate the plot and characters while the latter half is very riveting. Overall this was an interesting book with intrigue and suspense.