Another serial killer is on the loose in a first novel from reporter, biographer Cornwell (A Time for Remembering--not reviewed). The plot is as familiar as yesterday's headlines: four young women have been attacked at home, raped, and strangled, always on Friday nights, by someone who seems familiar with their habits. How has the killer picked his victims, and what did they have in common? Cornwell's focus on County Medical Examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, her harried narrator-heroine, is so painfully tight that the landscape (Richmond, Virginia) is barely there, and the detective work--involving DNA profiling, traces of borax, a break-in to Kay's computer files, and a sweetish smell the killer leaves behind--is competent but no more. But the police-procedural routine (including clinical descriptions of the victims' bodies) is convincing; the obligatory characters (Kay's niece Lucy, bullying boss Dr. Amburgey, macho cop Pete Marino, tabloid reporter Abby Turnbull, sometime maybe-too-violent boyfriend Bill Boltz) sketched in with authority; and the threats to Kay--first her professionalism is questioned, then her competence, and inevitably her life--so skillfully judged that you'll keep turning the pages to find out what you already know. A solid if unspectacular debut.