Patricia Cornwell hits the ground running in RED MIST. At the center are Kay Scarpetta and the usual ensemble of characters: Benton Wesley, Kay’s husband and a forensic psychiatrist; her brilliant niece, Lucy Farinelli; investigator Pete Marino; and, in this book, she brings back former New York District Attorney Jaime Berger, who at one time was Lucy’s lover. The story opens with Kay arriving in Savannah on her way to the Georgia Prison for Women. She has been summoned by one of the prisoners, who wants to talk to her about the murder of her assistant, Jack Fielding.
"Fans of Patricia Cornwell will find that, like her character, she has been evolving as a writer. And the proof can be found on every page of RED MIST."
Jack was killed by his illegitimate daughter, Dawn Kincaid. But as far as Kay is concerned, “he was already dead.” He had been on the wrong side of the law and screwed up Kay’s laboratories. This betrayal almost drove her over the edge when she came back after a training stint with the field work of the Department of Defense.
She is thinking about Jack and Kate Lawler and their psychopathic daughter, Dawn Kincaid, among others, as she picks up her rented car. But here she finds all of her reservations mixed up and realizes this trip is not going to be short or easy. She has learned that years ago a family of four was sadistically murdered in their beds. The killer was alleged to be a woman who lived in a halfway house. She was arrested, found guilty and sent to the GPFW where she still resides. Kate is the inmate who has persuaded Kay to come to Georgia, hinting that she might be able to shed light upon Jack’s murder. The convict may have information about Jack’s death, and Kay feels it is her moral duty to talk to the woman, even if she’s being set up by some other forces working behind this convict.
Kay is invited to meet Jaime Berger at her palatial home for dinner. When she arrives, she is shocked to find Pete waiting for her. He says that Jaime wanted him to pave the way to the discussion she wants to have with Kay. Needless to say, Kay is furious. She had no idea that Jaime was in Savannah and certainly didn’t know that Pete was there. He tells Kay he’s thinking of going to work for Jaime, who is no longer a New York District Attorney. She is considering her options about opening an office in Georgia; she will need an investigator who is as smart and experienced as Pete, and he is thinking of moving to Savannah to work with her. After hearing this little speech, Kay wants to grab her bag and just go home. She realizes that she is being manipulated but still doesn’t know why or by whom.
Since the story is told in the first person, readers get the tingling sensations Kay feels as she traverses the labyrinth of this deeply sophisticated plot and its suspenseful sub-plots. Kay is the central character in RED MIST, and Cornwell has put in everything readers have known or suspected about her over the last 18 novels. Also, the GPFW is the partial center of some of the action, as is the city of Savannah.
As for how she feels about this complex character she has spent over 20 years creating, Cornwell says in an interview, “I like her better now. In the first decade she was almost unrelentingly serious and had a difficult time with relationships. I was attempting to show a very harsh reality, so I was trying to be very linear and not have distractions. I kept to the point. Now that you can read forensic detail all over, I’m not just interested in what surgical instrument she’ll use when she walks in the morgue. I care even more about her reflections on what she’s about to do. She’s evolving and she’s more fun to be with.”
Further into the interview with The Daily Beast,Cornwell is asked: “Early in RED MIST, Scarpetta comes across letters complaining about how difficult she is, and that she needs to be warmed up, humanized, and have some good sex. Is that realistic for her world?” Her answer is very interesting for fans to see: “In her world and every world. When people are critical of powerful women, they use the words that are in those letters. She’s a bitch, or she’s cold, or what she needs is more sex. A lot of this is absolutely unfair and wrong. It’s just stereotypes --- like calling men brutes.”
The book’s mystery content is suspenseful and thrilling. Fans of Patricia Cornwell will find that, like her character, she has been evolving as a writer. And the proof can be found on every page of RED MIST.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 15, 2011