Patricia D. Cornwell, Author, Patricia Corwnell, Author . Putnam $26.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-399-15219-1

Cornwell's latest after the disappointing Blow Fly has indomitable medical examiner Kay Scarpetta returning to her office in Richmond five years after being fired. This homecoming will cheer fans: not only does the move put Scarpetta on her own turf, it reinvigorates Cornwell's storytelling, restoring some of the spunk lately lacking in her lead character. Dr. Joel Marcus, Scarpetta's replacement as Virginia's chief medical examiner, has summoned her back to help him puzzle through the mysterious death of a 14-year-old girl. Marcus is generally loathed: he's petty, inept, has a secret garbage-truck phobia and harbors an intense hatred for Scarpetta. Meanwhile, Scarpetta's niece Lucy, owner of a fabulously successful private-eye firm, has her own troubles trying to sort out who attempted to kill her friend Henri (short for Henrietta), who's now under psychiatric treatment by Scarpetta's lover in Aspen, Benton Wesley. Lurking in the background is Edgar Allan Pogue, a nutcase who has a thing for dead bodies and a grudge against Scarpetta. It's her job, as always, to connect all the puzzling forensic dots and identify the killer in time to save herself and her loved ones. She does this, mostly, but leaves the reader to puzzle out a few salient points on his or her own. Cumbersome backstory slows the action, but in general the old Scarpetta comes through, at least in the main, and this will be enough to reassure her many fans and carry them over until her next appearance. Agent, Esther Newberg . (Sept.)

Forecast: A firmer editorial hand might have snipped those dangling plot threads—the price, perhaps, of such success is getting enough rope to hang oneself. But thankfully Cornwell escapes that fate, and as the bestselling female crime writer in the world she can expect her regular huge numbers . BOMC, Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selection .

Reviewed on: 08/02/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
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