What I’m Reading Wednesday: Port Mortuary and Red Mist


Let me preface these reviews with the statement that I am a long-time Patricia Cornwell fan.

I read and re-read her Kay Scarpetta novels. Heck, I eschewed product samples (you know, the ones you get in the Sunday paper or in magazines or in the mail) for years after reading Unnatural Exposure for fear of product tampering.  When I was supposed to be moving to Richmond, Virginia in the late ’90s, my mom was freaking out because all her knowledge of Richmond came from Kay Scarpetta novels.

But somewhere along the line, the writing in the series changed as did the characters’ personalities, and I shied away from the books.


I read a review that said Red Mist was a return to the old first-person style of Kay Scarpetta novels, and I thought I’d give it a chance. No more than three pages in, I quickly realized that this book was picking up where Port Mortuary left off, and backed up to read it first.


I wish I could say that these merit the same praise that Cornwell’s earlier books do, but I can’t. In fact, I’m reviewing these two books together because, in my opinion they could (should?) have been heavily edited into one novel – perhaps then both stories would have worked. Almost.

“Port Mortuary” begins with Kay Scarpetta at the real Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, where she has been working on virtual autopsy techniques, while leaving Jack Fielding as interim head of her recently founded Cambridge Forensic Center. She is called back to Boston to investigate both the mysterious death of a young man and the murder of a boy.  As it slowly – very slowly – is revealed that the two deaths are related, the plot gets bogged down – mostly inside Kay’s head – as far too many pages dwell on Kay’s muddled thinking and complete inability to get anyone to tell her anything.  Adding to this is that the other main characters – Benton, Marino and Lucy – have become so unlikable that I began to wonder why I bothered.  Mystery adds to mystery, only to have the book come to an all-too-fast ending, and a tidy wrap up with a character barely introduced.

Which provides a tidy lead in for the publishers to release another novel, but given that “Red Mist” is equally convoluted, with the characters becoming even more deeply flawed, you begin to wonder why Scarpetta feels any loyalty to her friends/family at all. Her inner dialogues also continue in their convoluted manner; if Cornwell was trying to convey Kay’s anxiety, she did it well as I was becoming anxious, ultimately skimming through pages of “I don’t understand what’s going on” sort of thoughts swimming through her head.

There is some really fascinating science in these books, and as a hardcore fan of her earlier novels, I had really high hopes that these would be a return to those early days – but sadly, it isn’t.

If you haven’t read Patricia Cornwell before, skip this book and head for her older novels like “Postmortem” and “The Body Farm” or “Cruel and Unusual” to see what all the hype was really about.

One Comment

  • Gmom Phyl

    Thanks, Jenn. I haven’t read beyond the original Kay Scarpetta books, for the reasons you have in your review.

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