Thursday, March 3, 2011

Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Book: Port Mortuary
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: Putnam Publishing - Penguin Group

Patricia Cornwell is one of my all time favorite writers. I'll never forget that Christmas back in 1991 when I visited my parents in Southern Illinois. It was a cold and fairly brutal winter, even that early in the season. I had exhausted the ever present stack of Women's Day and Redbook magazines, and was starting to get a little stir crazy. My mom, who to my knowledge has never read a book in her adult life, handed me a copy of Postmortem, which she said she bought at WalMart because it "looked interesting".

Thus began an elicit love affair that has endured for 20 years - thanks, Ma!!!!

Port Mortuary is the 18th Kay Scarpetta book. We've followed her from Virginia to Florida to South Carolina, and New York City, and now to a second site in Massachusetts. The book starts with Kay on a temporary duty assignment at Dover AFB, working with the Air Forces Medical Examiner learning how to perform cutting-edge virtual autopsies.

This is very cool stuff, and it would have been nice if we'd had a little more virtual autopsy and a little less caffeine.

Kay is pulled from the shower by a Captain that she obviously has a hard time suffering. Seems trusty old Pete Marino and the studly Lucy Farinelli have shown up to drag her lovely blonde butt back to Massachusetts in the middle of a blizzard to address a myriad of problems: A potential homicide that may have actually been alive when he was brought in for autopsy, a handful of cases that may have been handled inappropriately, a Deputy that is MIA, a rusty scalpel, and a staff that has the discipline of a box angry cats.

The book deals with murder (was he/wasn't he, were they/weren't they, why/why/why), cutting edge technology (flybots, robo-gloves, and a tricked-out iPod), and enough distrust (is my office bugged, what aren't you telling me, who chewed the gum in my desk) to fill a C-5 loaded with angry cats.

I have no clue why I'm evoking angry cats, it just seems to 'capture' the moment, so go with it.

This is the first Scarpetta novel to be written entirely in the first-person - in the past, we've seen third person narrative as well as a hybrid where some parts are first-person and others in the third. While I give a huge thumbs up to Ms. Cornwell for changing things up to keep the series fresh, I have to say I hope this first-person narrative is a one-off thing. I found wading through Kay's exhausted but caffeine-addled thoughts to be tedious, frustrating, slow, and annoying. I kept waiting for something to happen, but very little did.

Actually, bunches of things DID happen, just outside of the narrative in her head.

That's not to say there was not a hugely complex and intricate story outlined in the book, because there was. But Kay spent most of her time speculating what people were hiding from her, being pissed off about what someone did or didn't do, and having very little sympathy for anyone but herself. She came off as paranoid, and more than a little snippy.

Granted, in the previous 17 books, we've learned that she has a complicated relationship with Benton, Lucy and Pete. We've also learned that she can be singularly focused to the point of distraction, and doesn't always harbor warm and tingly feelings towards other characters, reoccurring or otherwise.

In fact, the only things she seemingly does have warm and tingly feelings toward are garlic and good scotch!

A few books back, Kay's trusty assistant, Rose, passed away. In this book, we are introduced to her new assistant, Bryce. I love this guy, a true gay blade with high-top sneakers and enough flair to signal a ship of sailors at high noon! He's a great new character, that I hope she develops a bit more in future books.

Unfortunately, since we spend almost the entire book inside the walls of Kay's brain, we have very little update on the other characters. However, it appears that Benton is secretly a Fibbie again, Pete has a man-crush on anything military, and Lucy has split from that hottie DA, Jamie Berger.

Oh, and we learn that Jet Ranger still drools, and gets a new playmate in Sock, the jaunty greyhound with tender ears.

All-in-all, this has been my least favorite and least satisfying Kay Scarpetta book - the story was frightening and sad, but I kept wishing to read the story, not Kay's thoughts.

And, as I say that, I fully suspect that some people will have a completely different reaction - and that's just fine. To each their own opinions.

Regardless, I'm sticking with Kay Scarpetta, Benton Wesley, Pete Marino, and Lucy Farinelli for the duration, so there's no question that I'll jump on the next book as soon as it hits the streets. Patricia Cornwell is smart, clever, creative, and isn't afraid to tackle a tough assignment like a new perspective or new technology. And that's exactly what keeps me coming back for more.

Of course, truth be told, I'd like to do more than stick with Lucy Farinelli for a few chapters . . . huzzah!

On a Rainbow Scale, I'll give it a 3.6 out of 6 as I eagerly await the next book.

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