The fascination with monstrous evil that's run through Cornwell's recent work (From Potter's Field, 1995, etc.) blossoms with a vengeance when Virginia Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta is called out on New Year's Eve to examine the body of Ted Eddings, an investigative reporter killed during an unauthorized dive in Norfolk's Inactive Naval Ship Yard. The typically arresting opening sequences--which take Scarpetta from beneath the icy waters of the Elizabeth River to the morgue, where she makes a shocking discovery about the manner of Eddings's death--masterfully set up all the conflicts that follow, from Scarpetta's instant antipathy to the Chesapeake police detective who'll end up lodging a sexual harassment complaint against her to her uneasy examination of the Book of Hand, the Bible of radical New Zionist messiah Joel Hand. And the momentum builds through a second murder, as usual unnervingly close to Scarpetta (has any series heroine ever survived so many deaths by proxy?). It's not till Scarpetta joins her brainy FBI niece Lucy and her tormented FBI lover Benton Wesley, who's leaving his wife but still can't commit himself to Scarpetta, to run the New Zionists' nefarious, incredible plot to ground and flush them out of their hidey-hole that Cornwell's apocalyptic moralizing turns shrill and unconvincing. Full marks, as always, for the gripping forensic detail and beleaguered Scarpetta's legendary toughness. It's only the sketchy, unbelievable villains who ring hollow.