Cornwell, Patricia. Postmortem. New York: Pocket Books, 1990
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love
Kay Scarpetta is a doctor who smokes, rarely exercises, and downs meals full of fat and cholesterol. She’s not your average doctor and not simply because she seems to shun taking a dose of her own medicine. Kay Scarpetta is the county medical examiner in Richmond, Virginia, an area known for its soaring murder rate. Scarpetta deals with death on a daily basis: “What the hell. You die. Everybody dies. So you die healthy. So what?” (Cornwell, 41). This was the most profound couple of sentences in Postmortem. The rest of the book is pure entertainment.
Death and the fragility of the human experience is a theme in nearly every murder mystery. It’s present in Postmortem as well, a finely tuned radio acting as background noise to the turbulent plot. There’s a new serial killer in Richmond who the newspapers dubbed “The Strangler” for the gruesome ways in which he kills his victims. Scarpetta, working in conjunction with the local police force, tries to unravel the knot the strangler managers to tie. There isn't a lot of evidence to work with aside from a “glittery substance” found at each scene.
Postmortem was startling creepy is its realism. I found myself double and triple checking the locks on my windows and doors at night before bed while I was making my way through the story. It got under my skin more intensely than other murder mysteries due, though I can’t pinpoint the reason why it affected me in that way. I didn’t identify with Kay Scarpetta, but I liked her a lot. I was rooting for her the whole time.
Postmortem was written at a time when technology was just starting to play a role in police investigations. Dial-up modems were still used regularly (remember that horrible sound?) and DNA testing was just starting to come en vogue. The outdated technology was a chuckle-worthy trip down memory lane. I was just a littlin’ in the early 90s, but I was old enough to have vivid memories of some of the technology that was used before the era of cell phones and iPads.
There were some low points in the writing. The foreshadowing tended to be a bit too obvious and made certain scenes predictable. Some of Scarpetta’s inner dialogue drags on and gets a bit repetitive. Generally speaking, though, I had fun reading this book and isn’t that the purpose of a beach read? To entertain? I had enough fun reading it, that I plan to continue with her series and start in on book number two soon!
3 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: Return to the Library