The newest Patricia Cornwell-Kay Scarpetta crime novel is better used as a doorst0p–weighing in at a hefty 495 pages–than a novel. I nearly gave up on it after the first thirty pages, but pressed on because I have enjoyed her forensic-based investigation/police procedural dramas in the past. The story takes place over the course of one day, when medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, recovering from the flu, is called to investigate a body left on the MIT campus. Together with her former employee, now police inspector Marino, they engage in solving who this woman is and whether she could be related to a series of murders taking place in Washington DC. The DC serial murders are being handled by Scarpetta’s crime profiler husband, Benton, who suspects a high-level conspiracy is afoot–one that involves falsifying evidence and crime records. Sounds promising, but instead of relying on the tried-and-true formula of the past, emphasizing the forensic science, the criminal profiling and police investigation, the majority of this novel is Scarpetta fretting over her relationship with her former parter, her relationship with her difficult yet brilliant niece, and her concern over her husband becoming too involved with getting into the heads of the serial killers. On top of which, Cornwell alludes to Scarpetta just having come from the atrocity at Newtown, Connecticut, and how it effected her. I found that aspect of the story distasteful–almost as if she were profiting from the tragedy there by using it so soon and in a not very well conceived novel. The story is dull, repetitive, and flush with errors. The whole book may have been improved with a strong, impartial editing. Within the context of Russian organized crime, she talked about drugs coming from the Soviet Union. That sent me scurrying back to check the copy write date. It just felt like a first draft, full of descriptions and ruminations by the main character that did not advance the plot in any way and should have been deleted. This makes me wonder how robust the editing is on a wildly successful author like Cornwell, or any popular author for that matter. Does the publisher give her more free rein, knowing that the book will sell just by virtue of Cornwell’s name on the cover? Besides the thin plot line, there were threads of the story that were never tied up, and the characters were all distasteful and self-absorbed, topped off by a very unsatisfying ending. Well, I believe I’ll pass on any future Cornwell novels, and judging by other Amazon reviews, so are many others.
Monthly Archives: January 2014
I first discovered the insightful writing of Caroline Knapp through her book about her relationship with her dog, Pack of Two. What I didn’t know at the time was the story of her life leading up to that point: a story of her battle against alcoholism and anorexia that led to her recovery through a relationship with her dog. Everyone should read her books. That is a bold statement, but one I stand behind one hundred percent. I am saddened to learn that after Caroline Knapp beat her alcoholism and eating disorders, she did not have a lot of life left before died from lung cancer at the age of 42. I am heartened by the fact that she probably faced it sober and head-on, with the laser like focus and analysis she brought to bear on her previous problems. The book “Drinking: A Love Story” is a stellar work of self analysis, but more than that, it is a clear-headed view on the problem on alcoholism. The metaphor she works through the book is that of a love story, which is so appropriate and just right in its description. It begins: “It was love at first sight. The beads of moisture on a chilled bottle. The way the glasses clinked and the conversation flowed. Then it became an obsession. The way she hid her bottles behind her lover’s refrigerator. The way she slipped from the dinner table to the bathroom, from work to the bar. And then, like so may love stories, it all fell apart.” The uplifting part of this story is Knapp chronicles her descent with unflinching honesty, but then lifts us back up out of her abyss through AA, describing every detail of her struggle in such a way that anyone with any sort of compulsive behavior can identify with her struggle. Although I did not always understand the injuries she suffered from her family situation, I understood her isolation and self-destruction, because she described it so beautifully. Beautifully? That is hard to imagine, but her writing is so lucid, so honest, so spot-on that that is the only word that springs to mind. She was a writer before, during, and after her trials with alcoholism, and we should all be thankful for the gift she left behind to help anyone struggling through the same ordeal, or anyone who is living with a loved one in that situation. Thank you, Caroline. May you rest in peace. Finally.
Just finished Robert B Parker’s novel featuring private investigator Sunny Randall called “Melancholy Baby.” I wanted a fast-paced and engaging read without much heavy intellectual input on my part, and I got just that. The story opens with Sunny Randall, and attractive and young PI, mourning the fact that her ex-husband is marrying again. To help put aside her personal problems, she takes on the case of a college student, Sarah Markham, who is convinced that her parents are lying to her and are not her birth parents. Once Sunny starts looking into her case, thugs attack Sarah to scare her off and the bodies start piling up. Although the main attraction of this novel, like all Parker’s works, is the witty and razor sharp banter between characters (think Gilmore Girls with an R rating), the more subtle strength of the story was some real insights into the human condition. Alternating chapters deal with Sunny’s visit to her shrink to discover why she is having such a difficult time with her ex’s re-marriage, and not surprisingly, these visits reveal a complicated relationship with her own parents. It isn’t Freud, but the characterization of the therapist was engaging and the way the layers of her memory and self-realizations were unfolded were quite skillful. As a murder-mystery, cop procedural, thriller or whatever, it is a little weak. As a story about the relationships between parents and children, it is much more interesting.
I started reading the classic gothic tale “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. The story is always referenced as one of first of its genre and certainly enjoys a special place in literature. I was dismayed, however, to find that I could not drag myself through the long and excruciatingly detailed descriptions, the painfully stiff dialog, and the dragging pace. I am ashamed of and disappointed in myself. Have I become that type of reader? Someone who has to have snappy dialogue or an act of sex or violence on every page, and who cannot read a description which exceeds two lines? Have I indulged in too regular a diet of commercial fiction that I can no longer enjoy the slower pace of a 19th century work? I was a Russian literature major, for goodness sake! I was weened on long, long novels wherein absolutely nothing happened and that was sort of the point. Ultimately, I have not given up entirely on the Woman in White, despite its massive bulk…(I put it aside at about page 50 of its more than 500+ pages.) I haven’t quite given up on myself, either, and promise to get back to some more challenging reading this year (alert: sounds like a new year resolution). In the meantime, I’m indulging in the guilty pleasure of reading Robert Parker’s “Melancholy Baby.” Don’t judge me!