Patricia Cornwell has written a murder mystery shrouded in a highly suspenseful story. Her usual characters are all on stage: Kay Scarpetta, her husband Benton Wesley, her niece Lucy, and Marino, a cop who used to be her investigator. Each of these characters brings interesting points of view to Cornwell's work. Sometimes they work well together while at other times are fighting like cats and dogs.
In DUST, the murders in Newtown, Connecticut are on their minds. Scarpetta has performed the autopsies on the children whose lives were lost there and has come down with a fierce case of the flu. In the meantime, Marino seeks her out to see if she is up to viewing a dead woman sunk in mud. This will be the first body Scarpetta actually sees for herself in this new series of murders. The victim is Gail Shipton and was involved in a high-profile lawsuit. Displayed on a sports field belonging to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she is nude, except for a pair of underpants. She is covered in a white bed sheet, and her arm is situated so that it looks like she is posing for a stylized photograph.
"As always, Patricia Cornwell gives her readers enough clues and red herrings to keep them guessing until the end.... Fans will not be able to put the book down, and newcomers will find themselves in a new world of crime fiction."
Shipman is not the first woman murdered and presented to the world in this way. A group of three were found in Washington, D.C.; they all disappeared before they were killed. In the beginning, as the investigation slowly gets into motion, no one seems to have any idea who might be the perpetrator of these crimes. But as time passes and Scarpetta is in touch with other autopsy experts, she finds some interesting similarities in the way the dead women are presented to the public.
Wesley's colleagues do not agree with his assessment of the killer (who he describes as being “a violent sexual psychopath with narcissistic and borderline traits. The ritualistic way he captures, controls, and kills...takes the place of sex with them”), and his boss Ed Granby is the most verbal and vindictive against him. Wesley is convinced that this deranged man will be responsible for getting him out of the BAU, the profiling part of the FBI. Granby thinks Wesley is an anachronism and should be let go. His priority is terrorism.
While Scarpetta is home sick, she takes out her dog, Sock, one night and sees a male figure run away from her house. She can’t see him clearly but is convinced that he is stalking her the way the murdered women were stalked. She decides to call Marino and have him take her to the office so she can begin the autopsy: "I need the body to talk to me because it will tell me the truth in a language that makes sense and can be trusted. The dead aren't capricious with me."
As always, Patricia Cornwell gives her readers enough clues and red herrings to keep them guessing until the end. DUST is a long novel filled with many characters who get more than enough space to do their thing. The ending winds down the story in a gracious and comely way. Fans will not be able to put the book down, and newcomers will find themselves in a new world of crime fiction. Don't miss this one!
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on November 15, 2013