Dust – Patricia Cornwell

The twenty first (apparently) of the Kay Scarpetta novels, this is one to be avoided.

The setting and story are standard Scarpetta fare: a young woman’s body has been found, on the MIT grounds, in circumstances that suggest this is the work of a serial killer. The forensic evidence is puzzling, but includes a link to killings in Washington, DC. Although her relationship with her former lead investigator, Marino, is somewhat troubled, both he and Scarpetta’s husband work together (along with niece Lucy, the computer expert) in unraveling the layers to get to the bottom of the case.

First, the book starts off at the pace of a snail. It takes far too many pages for Scareptta to get out of bed, dressed, and on the case. It’s almost as if the author had set herself a challenge of how long she could drag the scene out. Perhaps it is an attempt at another kind of atmospheric scene, other than those of the killings. Whatever, it falls flat. Slowly. Oh so slowly.

Second, the plot has several strands that are quite interesting, and have great potential. Unfortunately, it seems the author lost interest, as some are cut short in an abrupt manner, and some appear and disappear before you can say “Where was the editor?” I got the impression this was a ‘going through the motions’ type of writing. It had its moments, but was largely an introspective bore.

Third, and probably worst of all for those who stay the pace, is the finale. Whereas before there was slow, slow, and slow, the final chapter or three that deal with discovery of the killer, and filling in the gaps, all rush past far too fast.

Incidentally, if the forensic chase is interesting to you, you will find it here, as per usual. If such technical narrative is supported by dramatic narrative, and the right balance is presented, it works. That, regrettably, does not happen here. The forensic encounters are as lifeless as the victims, and the sparks of interesting lines of investigation that might be expected, are faint flickers of false hope. The science bores, just like the rest of the book.

Overall, it is a book that mixes some unbelievably chunky, clunky, boring narrative, with slivers of excitement, and potential that strike the chords of curiosity in the reader (if still awake). But the best shorthand description of the mix is that it is a mess: a disappointing. It should not have been published in its present form. Awful. I would not be surprised if there were a contractual dispute, or a personal episode of crisis for the author that lay at the back of this. She has produced some fine work. This is not an example you could say that about.