Book of the Dead

Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell.  Not too long ago I saw an interview with a film director, I think it was Martin Scorcese but I’m not sure, in which he talked about the editing process.  He said that because it was almost impossible to film an entire scene in one shot with one camera, his job when editing was to make things as easy as possible for viewers as various cuts appear on screen.  He felt that viewers can make the jump from point A to point C if the director provides them some assistance in creating point B in their minds.  I think the same connection is possible when mystery writers work with their readers.  Readers create a series of images in their minds similar to a feature-length film.  Sometimes these images are a direct result of the words on the page, but other times the author leaves things unwritten and lets the readers fill in these gray areas with pictures of their own creation.  The author describes an investigator finding a clue at the scene of the crime and readers can picture how the crime took place without the author actually having to write about it.  When it’s done right, it enhances the reading experience, but when it’s done poorly, confusion abounds.

In the latest Dr. Kay Scarpetta novel from Cornwell there are a lot of gray areas that readers must fill in on their own.  I really struggled through the first half of the book to decipher the dialogue.  Everyone has secrets and it seemed as if they were all talking in a code I couldn’t break.  I also struggled with the medical terminology, always heavy in this series, but this time it seemed oppressive.  Another problem was that none, repeat none, of the main characters of the book were likable.  Not forensic pathologist Scarpetta, not her niece Lucy, not their investigator Marino, not her boyfriend Benton Wesley, not her new neighbors in Charleston, certainly not the Italian doctors working with them to solve the murder of an American tennis star in Rome, and most definitely not Dr. Marilyn Self, the teleshrink who returns from the previous novel in the series.  If one has time, rereading 2005’s Predator would be quite helpful in understanding this new book, but even that may not be enough.  In the second half of the book, things become clearer as some of the secrets are revealed only to become murky again at the end.

Frequently, novels that are part of a series will have leave some things pertaining to the recurring characters unresolved in order to entice readers back for the entry in the series and there is a very good cliffhanger here.  Unfortunately, there are also several loose ends related to the main and sub plots that are not tied up, leaving readers not in the gray, but in the dark.  If you’ve been reading this series in its entirety and plan to do so in the future, then you’re going to have to read this one anyway, but if you’re just considering whether to start this series, don’t do on the basis of this book.  Read the first entry, Postmortem, a chilling, excellent mystery that still remains one of the best books I’ve read in the last twenty years.

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