Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s talk to the bigwigs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government is delayed by murder, malicious online posts, anonymous messages, a visit from her sister, and a familiar malefactor from her past in this kitchen-sink 24th installment.
Walking through Harvard Yard in the brutal September heat, Scarpetta muses that normal days for a forensic pathologist are shockingly abnormal for everyone else. As if to prove her point, she instantly gets word from her old frenemy Cambridge Police Investigator Pete Marino that a call to 911 complained that she’d just quarreled violently with Bryce Clark, her chief of staff. Scarpetta, already pondering a series of obscure but meticulously timed messages she’s had from someone calling himself Tailend Charlie, is in no mood for the impending visit from her disapproving younger sister, Dorothy, whose flight to Boston keeps getting delayed. So it’s a perfect time for Anya and Enya Rummage, a pair of dull-witted teenage twins, to report finding a body in John F. Kennedy Park. Arriving at the crime scene, Scarpetta realizes with a shock that she encountered Elisa Vandersteel in passing only a few hours before her death. Is her old nemesis, that monstrous psychopath Carrie Grethen, trying to get at her yet again (Depraved Heart, 2015, etc.) by killing a stranger who crossed her path? And just how was the Canadian-born Elisa, who’d been working as an au pair in tech CEO William Portison’s Mayfair home, killed? Even the twins noticed a burning smell coming from the body, but there’s no meteorological sign of the lightning strike that would seem to be the most obvious cause for her death.
Fans, aware that this particular fatality is incidental to the larger saga of the heroine’s epic struggle with the forces of evil, will forgive the absence of a coherent mystery or characters worth caring about. The closest analogue to Cornwell’s wildly successful series, in fact, may be a superhero franchise.