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Book Discussion Guide: All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell: Reviews

Book reviews

From BookList

The crime: murder. The place: Richmond, Virginia, and environs. The time: the present. The sleuth: medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. The publisher: giddily optimistic about author Cornwell’s drawing power. Dr. Scarpetta’s previous case (Body of Evidence) was warmly praised and, along with Postmortem, sowed the seeds of nascent fandom. Their plots’ reliance on forensic detail was criticized, however, and Cornwell responds here by balancing that information (of which she well knoweth, having been a crime reporter before writing fiction) with a more traditional crafting of the whodunit yarn: the victims’ backgrounds are examined, a review of similar cases establishes that a serial killer is at large, and a cagey clue exchange goes on among the investigators. But it is Scarpetta who tends to get the “walk-ins,” the breaks out of the blue: the victim’s mother, the U.S. “drug czar,” consults her, as does an old gal-pal reporter for the Washington Post, who just happens to excite things by postulating that the perpetrator is a rogue CIA agent. Unfortunately, the character of Scarpetta gradually becomes overstrained, devolving into a stock role. Inspired to forsake autopsies for some independent work, she indeed discovers the clue that cracks the case, but not, alas, before a sanguinary shoot-out. Nonetheless, expect high readership demand for this involving yarn.

From Publishers Weekly

Edgar, Anthony, Creasey and McCavity Award winner Cornwell (Body of Evidence) combines bone-rattling suspense with an insider’s view of forensic science as her sleuth, Richmond, Va., medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, investigates a series of grim murders of young couples. With bone fragments being, in effect, all that remains of badly decomposed corpses, Scarpetta, Richmond homicide detective Pete Marino, ace reporter Abby Turnbull and even psychic Hilda Ozimek must employ their combined expertise – and a good deal of raw courage – to trace the killer. The case is complicated by the identity of one victim, daughter of Pat Harvey, the high-profile female national drug policy director and vice-presidential hopeful, and by the re-entry into Scarpetta’s life of a lover who is lying about his line of work. In her best novel to date, Cornwell demonstrates that clues about character are as vital as physical evidence at the crime scene.

From Kirkus Reviews

Fresh from her triumphs in Postmortem (1990) and Body of Evidence (1991), Richmond chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta tries for the hat trick against a killer who attacks couples in cars – five couples so far, including Fred Cheney and Deborah Harvey, daughter of national drug-czar Pat Harvey. A handful of physical clues – a jack of hearts left at each crime scene, the removal of all the victims' shoes and socks, the similarity of the crimes to an isolated murder eight years ago – are all Kay has to work with as she goes up against not only the killer but also scruffy Detective Pete Marino, falling apart now that his wife’s left him; her obsessive friend, reporter Abby Turnbull, who’s signed a contract to write a book about the murders; the FBI, who are out to protect a killer they suspect is one of their own officers-in-training; and Mrs. Harvey, determined to punish her daughter’s murderer herself. The medical detail – encompassing riddles of when and how as well as who – is as sharp and wide-ranging as ever; and although Cornwell takes a chance on a denouement that lacks the slam-bang impact of her earlier endings, she continues to show one of the most astonishing growth curves in the genre. Thanks to Cornwell's forensic expertise, her corpses continue to speak more eloquently than many crime writers’ living characters.