Does Kay Scarpetta ever have a nice day? No sooner has she been taken from the arms of her FBI lover Benton Wesley by a disquieting note from her niece Lucy's murderous ex-lover Carrie Grethen, locked up ever since The Body Farm (1994), than she gets called to the scene of a particularly horrific arson. Nineteen horses are dead at the farm of black publishing mogul Kenneth Sparkes, a longtime adversary of Scarpetta's, along with what looks like the body of Sparkes's onetime lover Claire Rawley. All indications are that the fire started in the commodious master bathroom, but since there's no sign of accelerant or fuel, Scarpetta's forced to fall back on her specialty, testimony from the corpse, which eventually leads her back in time to a series of equally inexplicable arson-murders. By now, Carrie Grethen has escaped and written to every newspaper on the East Coast that she was seduced by Lucy and framed by Scarpetta and Wesley; Scarpetta is at loggerheads with Teun McGovern, Lucy's new boss at Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and Scarpetta's irascible buddy Capt. Pete Marino is indulging himself in intimations of mortality that turn out to be only too well-timed. As in Scarpetta's recent cases (Unnatural Exposure, 1997, etc.), the final face-off between good and evil comes as something of an anticlimax after the trademark grueling forensics, showing once again that Cornwell's most compelling characters tend to be dead.