""My central nervous system spikes and surges, my pulse pounds. I am sweating.... "" If only readers would share this response with Cornwell's immensely popular Kay Scarpetta, Virginia's chief medical examiner. But most won't. Kay has plenty of reason to be upset. She's standing in a room in a shabby motel where a body has been found, severely tortured. She's under official suspicion of having murdered maleficent ber-cop Diane Bray (in Kay's last outing, Black Notice). She's suspected of trumping up charges against accused serial killer Jean-Baptiste Chandonne, also introduced in Black Notice. She's reeling from the aftershock of Chandonne's murderous attack on her; she mightily misses her slain FBI agent/lover Dan Belson; she's learned that her gay niece, Lucy, is quitting law enforcement for a private PI firm called the Last Precinct--and it's Christmas time. Kay has a lot of support in the midst of this law-and-disorder soap opera, from, among others, Lucy, tough cop/sidekick Pete Marino and Kay's aged friend, psychiatrist Anna Zenner--and that's part of the problem with this novel. Excessive emoting and way too much talk (including long therapeutic sessions between Kay and Anna) derail momentum time and again; the pages feel soggy with tears. Cornwell does provide intense intrigue, but it's a strain to follow as she connects events and loose ends from several novels. Within this narrative swamp, there's one new and very memorable gator, though--New York prosecutor Jaime Berger, obviously modeled on real-life ADA (and novelist) Linda Fairstein, to whom Cornwell dedicates the novel; she's sharply drawn and charismatic. Cornwell will win few if any new fans with this overlong, sluggish offering, but her giant readership is so hardcore and so enamored of Kay that the publisher's first printing of one million seems, if anything, conservative. $800,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selections; national satellite tour; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Japan, Finland, Turkey and Spain. (One-day laydown, Oct. 16)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000 Release date: 10/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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