Monday, November 21, 2016

Cruel & Unusual by Patricia Cornwell

Cruel & Unusual
by Patricia Cornwell

I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers since the 1970s, and I was surprised to consider that I had never read of Patricia Cornwell’s series featuring coroner Kay Scarpetta, until the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery book discussion group discussed Cruel & Unusual, the fourth in the series, for our final meeting of 2016. Cornwell, with the Scarpetta series, is credited with being one of the authors to popularize the mystery sub-genre focusing on coroner and forensic work, long before TV shows like CSI and Bones became huge hits (although Quincy, M.E., with Jack Klugman, ran on NBC from 1976 to 1982).

In the Scarpetta novels, the private life and relationships of Scarpetta, her co-workers and her relatives, take has much priority as the mystery-solving. This is particularly the case in Cruel & Unusual, where partway through the book it is apparent that coroner Scarpetta is being set up to take the fall in some shady dealings in the medical examiner’s office. Supporting characters like homicide detective Pete Marino, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, and Kay’s tech-savvy niece Lucy Farinelli (a brilliant but anti-social 17-year-old in this novel), all serve as major supporting characters in this volume. The plot of Cruel & Unusual was pretty straight-forward, but I did find myself getting interested in the characters and their lives. While Scarpetta herself almost seemed “too good to be true”, she was also quite a flawed character, which made me care a little bit more about her and her fate. All in all, I’d call this a strong mystery/thriller, although there is such character development in each volume that it would be best to start this series at the beginning, with 1990’s Postmortem.

[ official Patricia Cornwell web site ]

See other titles and authors read by the Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group on the Just Desserts archives

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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