Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review: The Scarpetta Factor, by Patricia Cornwell

Well, I've got photos from the last 8 days (geez, have I really gotten that far behind again?) pulled off the camera, finally, but Photoshop was having hissy fits this evening when I was trying to get them edited, so I'm going to have to check another post off the to-do list, instead. I trust you will take me at my word that, despite the lack of current photographic evidence, the kiddos remain as adorable as ever. Woundy McHead Gash is healing up nicely, and Ouch Ears vonFeversmith is on the mend as well.

All right. So, as you may know, I've read the majority of Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series. I actually own something like the first 13 books (the 18th is due to come out next week, actually). The last one I bought, Trace, I wrote about, way back in 2005. I was actually so disappointed by that book that I gave up on the series for a few years, skipped the next 2 releases, and then picked up Scarpetta in the lending library here at the condo complex last winter. And while that one felt a little hackneyed, the general story seemed to be at least somewhat pointed back in the direction of what had drawn me to the series in the first place. So when I saw The Scarpetta Factor at the local library a couple of months back, I went ahead and checked it out.

We'll ignore, for a moment, the fact that Cornwell seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as title selections are concerned.

My favorite character in the series has always been not Scarpetta herself, but her niece, Lucy. Lucy's a whiz-kid computer genius and an overall badass who flies helicopters and frequently ends up saving the day when the bad guys come after her beloved Aunt Kay. She's also a loose cannon and, I suspect, more than a little bit modeled after Cornwell herself. So maybe there was some projected self-deprecation or something going on, but around book 10 or 11, Lucy started making some really poor and destructive decisions, and she was downright unlikable in Trace (book 13). I was, therefore, really glad when Cornwell treated Lucy more sympathetically in Scarpetta and The Scarpetta Factor. Oh sure, she's still got issues, but it's not painful to read the sections of the book that feature her, anymore.

As for The Scarpetta Factor on the whole, I felt the pacing was off. There was a lot of slow building and seemingly endless (frequently superfluous) narration and explication. A few hundred pages in, it seemed like not a lot had actually happened. I was reminded a bit of high school when you've got a word count you have to meet for an essay and you just kind of babble on and on, saying as little as possible in as many words as you can manage. So that was a bit obnoxious. And the killer (spoiler alert!) ended up being a character recycled from, like, NINE BOOKS AGO. At least (spoiler alert, again!) he was finally offed, for real this time, so that ought to, in theory, be the end of that guy and his friggin' baby-fine hairs.

Ultimately, while I don't think I will ever again purchase another Scarpetta novel, I will almost certainly keep an eye out for them to turn up at the library. I'm glad Cornwell seems to maybe be writing her way back out of the slump she'd fallen into (though, seriously, she needs to fire her editor, do some more story charting, and dispense with the whole "drag the story out for 582 pages, wrap it up in 10" strategy). I'm willing to forgive a lot of less-than-stellar writing, it turns out, if I care about the characters, and they're being treated well by their author. I'm not saying they can't have flaws - everybody has flaws - but it's hard to deal when those flaws overwhelm a previously-likable character, without redemption. Fortunately, it looks like maybe I'll get to follow the lives of Scarpetta and the gang for a little while longer.

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