Review

The Scarpetta Factor

by Patricia Cornwell

Well before Kathy Reichs and her popular Bones novels
turned television series, author Patricia Cornwell had broken
ground on forensic science mysteries featuring a female protagonist
loosely based on the author herself. Cornwell and her
creation, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, enjoy their 17th novel together with
the release of THE SCARPETTA FACTOR.

The book’s title is two-fold. First, it’s the
prospective name of a CNN series that Scarpetta’s agent is
negotiating for her to star in. Secondly, it refers to the
heart of the murders and other strange crimes that take place in
New York City the week before Christmas --- crimes that all seem to
have Scarpetta as the common denominator. She and her husband,
psychiatrist Benton Wesley, are residing in an apartment off of
Central Park in the heart of the city. Also around is her old
friend, Peter Marino (now working for the NYPD), as well as her
niece, Lucy, a former CIA investigator involved with New York
prosecutor Jaime Berger.

All of these familiar characters become linked over a series of
crimes: a murder of a young New York City woman, the suicide of one
of Scarpetta and Wesley’s rivals, and the disappearance of an
infamous tabloid personality, Hannah Starr. Not only is Scarpetta a
“factor” in each case, Lucy may be tied to
Hannah’s disappearance. All roads lead toward an old nemesis
of hers, French underworld figure Jean-Baptiste Chandonne --- the
infamous “Wolfman” who has figured prominently in
several of Cornwell’s recent Scarpetta novels.

To further complicate matters, while Scarpetta is residing in
New York City and temporarily lending her talents to the local
Medical Examiner’s office, she agrees to appear as a guest on
the Carley Crispin talk show. Incidentally, Warner Agee, a nemesis
to Wesley, is also being featured on the program. During the live
telecast, Scarpetta is presented with a dubious phone call
inquiring about the Hannah Starr case. Avoiding any comment,
she is led down the road by this mystery caller, and Crispin takes
advantage of the situation to corner her into commenting on the
private case. With the media frenzy surrounding this appearance on
the show blowing up all around her, Scarpetta soon faces another
threat: a mysterious (and possibly deadly) FedEx delivery that may
be tied to a former patient of Benton named Dodie Hodge. And
when an apparently crazed man jumps from a bridge, pieces begin
fitting together that tie all of the aforementioned events together
with Scarpetta in the middle of this deadly spider’s web.

Could Warner Agee, Hannah Starr and Dodie Hodge somehow all be
linked to the French Chandonne crime family? If so, what role
does Scarpetta’s niece Lucy play in the saga? Patricia
Cornwell deftly juggles all of these characters and situations in a
lengthy, nearly 500-page book. Readers of previous Scarpetta novels
may be disappointed by the lack of forensic involvement here: where
the earlier titles relied heavily on the Medical Examiner’s
office, THE SCARPETTA FACTOR involves much more current media
trends to move the story forward. Fans won’t mind being
caught up in the lengthy soap opera-like passages involving
Cornwell’s familiar characters, while those who enjoy
blood-and-guts crime drama will have to wait patiently for the
action.

But when the action comes, it is shocking and unexpected --- and
it leaves the door wide open for storylines that will most
assuredly be picked up in the next Scarpetta novel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 24, 2011

The Scarpetta Factor
by Patricia Cornwell

  • Publication Date: August 31, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425236285
  • ISBN-13: 9780425236284