Port Mortuary

December 8, 2011 - Port Mortuary (Patricia Cornwell). In this 18th novel in the author's Kay Scarpetta series, the action is spread over close to 500 pages but covers only a time period of 36 hours or so. The story is told mainly through the thoughts and words of Scarpetta as she tries to catch a vicious killer while putting her new lab back in order.

The book opens with Scarpetta at Dover Air Force Base, where she's spent the past six months helping to identify the remains of US service members. Suddenly, her niece, Lucy, and her investigator, Pete Marino, arrive to whisk her back to Cambridge, Massachusetts. That's where Scarpetta has set up a new, high-tech morgue to do her work as the state's chief medical examiner. While Scarpetta has been in Delaware, her troubled assistant, Jack Fielding, has been running the lab – and not doing a very good job of it, by all accounts.

Scarpetta has been called back because a body recently brought to the morgue started bleeding unexpectedly. The blood raises questions about whether the victim was actually dead when he was brought in. Turns out he was, but his cause of death was most unusual. The investigation leads Scarpetta down some unexpected avenues and makes her wonder if she's paranoid or if someone really is out to get her.

As Cornwell did in the last book, she again relies heavily on giving the reader insights into the characters' inner thoughts. Here, though, that technique is used only with Scarpetta (though it is used very extensively). Marino, Lucy and Benton are largely pushed to the side by Scarpetta's thoughts and by her perspective as she tries to figure out exactly what is going on around here and why no one seems anxious to share with her what they know. The technique doesn't completely fail and the plot is interesting, but I missed the usual larger presence of the supporting characters.