Hornet's Nest

Patricia D. Cornwell, Author Putnam $25.95 (377p) ISBN 978-0-399-14228-4
The decision to abandon her forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta (Body of Evidence; Cause of Death; etc.) leaves Cornwell lacking more than a fail-safe series heroine. The only credible element in this novel is the urban New South setting. The story-about two women top cops and a young male newspaper reporter in Charlotte, N.C.-is routine fare at best. The three characters-42-year-old Deputy Chief Virginia West; her boss, unhappily married Chief Judy Hammer; and handsome wunderkind journalist and volunteer cop, Andy Brazil-are preternaturally competent automatons, obsessive and utterly devoid of self-awareness. A sequence of serial killings of out-of-towners, men who are pulled from their rental cars, sexually mutilated, marked with orange spray paint and shot, creates tension in Charlotte. While Hammer struggles with city politics and a depressed, obese husband, West contends with Brazil (a ""handsome and fierce"" 22-year-old with ""total photographic recall""), who is on assignment to write about police activity, having impressed his editor by turning in ""a hundred of hours' overtime five months in a row."" Rather than reveal her characters through their words and actions, Cornwell forces them on us predigested (""West believed women were great""; ""Brazil did not believe prostitution was right.""). In that same descriptive mode, she takes them on roller coaster rides of extravagant emotion-rage, grief, resolve, despair-and offers set pieces in place of plot: mid-book, more than 150 pages pass without mention of the murders. We are made privy to the fantasies of West's cat, but not to the motivations behind the killings. There is nothing to believe in on these pages beyond Charlotte itself. 750,000 first printing; $500,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club selections. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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