Book: Postmortem

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Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: Pocket

Under cover of night in Richmond, Virginia, a human monster strikes, leaving a gruesome trail of stranglings that has paralyzed the city. Medical examiner Kay Scarpetta suspects the worst: a deliberate campaign by a brilliant serial killer whose signature offers precious few clues. With an unerring eye, she calls on the latest advances in forensic research to unmask the madman. But this investigation will test Kay like no other, because it’s being sabotaged from within and someone wants her dead.


Patricia Cornwell has said that if she hadn’t written her Kay Scarpetta thrillers—the classic first three are collected in this volume—she might find them too scary to read. After all, she is the rare crime writer who knows what she’s talking about: she worked on the newspaper crime beat and at the Scotland Yard-like medical examiner’s office in Richmond, Virginia, at a time when a serial killer was murdering women just like her. (Cornwell sleeps with a .38 within reach.)

Postmortem introduces Dr. Scarpetta, who knows the smell of bone dust from a skullcap saw and how to read a body for clues via lasers, DNA, and computers. As Scarpetta slowly closes in on a killer known as Mr. Nobody, she gets the creepy, well-informed feeling that the killer is closing in on her. Cornwell’s debut swept the mystery-writing awards and made her somebody.

In Body of Evidence, Scarpetta investigates the murder of a Southern writer who mysteriously opened the door for her killer. In All That Remains, she hunts a serial killer of young lovers—including the daughter of the president’s drug czar, which complicates the forensic chase with political intrigue.

Besides suspenseful cat-and-mouse games between sleuth and killer (and writer and reader), Cornwell creates a rich cast of screwed-up characters, chiefly Scarpetta’s scruffy confrere, Detective Pete Marino. Scarpetta’s character is a magnetic combination of pride, drive, brains, extreme skill at cooking, and a pervasive sadness expressed with tightly wound eloquence. With these books, Cornwell (a descendant of Harriet Beecher Stowe) increased her book deal from $6,000 to $24 million. She earned it.

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