Reviewed by Rod McLary
In 1990, Patricia Cornwell in her first book Postmortem introduced the world to Dr Kay Scarpetta – a forensic pathologist. Thirty-two years later, Dr Scarpetta appears in the 26th book featuring her along with her [now] husband Benton Wesley, her investigator Pete Marino, her niece Lucy and her sister Dorothy with whom she has a rather vexed relationship.
As always, Dr Scarpetta is called upon to utilise her forensic skills to solve what appears to be an unsolvable crime. The sister of the judge presiding over a trial in which Scarpetta is an expert witness is murdered in what seems to be a home invasion. But the grounds are strewn with dead plants and insects and it’s only Dr Scarpetta and her compatriots who understand what has caused this damage; and how the judge’s sister was killed.
The story opens with Dr Scarpetta on the witness stand in the trial of a man accused of murdering his wife after an argument on their boat. Dr Scarpetta is arguing that the wounds on the body of the young woman allegedly murdered by her husband were instead inflicted by the propeller of a passing boat. However, the defence lawyer seems determined to destroy her credibility as an expert witness with a misleading and inappropriate examination. In a further complication, the defence lawyer is in an unequal relationship with the murdered sister of the judge. Readers of the Kay Scarpetta novels would be familiar with the recurrent theme of conflict with and secret machinations of her colleagues and staff which among other things add another dimension to her investigations. However, as a counterpoint, she is assisted by the expert knowledge of Benton Wesley and Lucy – both of whom now work for the Secret Service and have access to information not readily available to others.
Along the way, Scarpetta brushes up against the results of the gun laws of the State of Virginia, where the story is set, which allow persons to openly carry pistols and assault weapons. The consequences of this law are quite frighteningly described in a scene where an armed and aggressive mob armed with assault rifles is demanding a guilty verdict in the trial. The aggression spills over into scenes which perhaps reflect the January 2021 storming of the Capitol Building in Washington DC. One of the mob with ‘the ruddy complexion of a drinker who’s out in the sun too long’ reappears in an even more sinister role later in the novel.
There is a strong sense throughout Livid that Scarpetta and her loyal family are facing down an evil world conspiring against good and it is only they who can hold back the tide. This good vs evil dynamic contributes to a narrative which engages the reader’s attention from beginning to end. And, as in all the Scarpetta novels, the denouement includes the death of the perpetrator and the novel concludes with Scarpetta and her family enjoying food and wine together – another job well done.
Livid is a fine crime thriller and, while perhaps not reaching the heights of some of Patricia Cornwell’s earlier novels, is certainly one which can be read with enjoyment in both the forensic investigations and the interactions between Kay Scarpetta, Benton Wesley and Pete Marino.
by Patricia Cornwell
ISBN 978 140872 582 5