Postmortem is Patricia Cornwell’s first medical thriller featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta and homicide detective Pete Marino, set in Richmond, Virginia. I tried to keep my reading confined to the audiobook in my car, but I found myself taking it to bed with me every night and not falling asleep until I’d listened through at least two CDs per night. I hadn’t read a “coroner” story or watched very many TV shows (no more than a few CSI episodes) on this topic of forensic pathology since one of my old favorites, Quincy, M.E., starring Jack Klugman, in the late 70s to early 80s, so I’m delighted to rekindle my odd fascination with the gory details of autopsies and forensic investigation. I don’t feel bad about this considering that Cornwell’s tales seem to have taken up permanent residence on the bestseller lists. I’m pretty stoked that I’ll now be able to read or listen to more than 20 books in the Kay Scarpetta series, and I’ve also now discovered a number of other writers of suspense-filled medical thrillers to add to my reading list.
Scarpetta is a strong, female leading character (Quince was quite the chauvinist, as I recall). In this first novel, she’s obviously up against male characters who think she does not belong in her position as Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia. She also has to gain the confidence and respect of her sidekick, detective Pete Marino, who reappears throughout the series. The pairing of a medical expert with a legal or police professional seems to be a very effective device in this style of literature, one that has proven successful in a number of series and TV shows. I really enjoyed the character development in Postmortem. Pete and Kay don’t get along well at first, but over time they recognize each other’s unique talents and slowly develop an awkward rapport tinged with sarcasm and a bit of humor that promises to develop further into the series. The ending was unpredictable and the inevitable dangerous situation the characters get themselves into could not have been resolved without their loyalty to each other and teamwork.
The medically fascinating details in these books showcase some of the latest technological advancements in forensic pathology through the years. Some might find it odd to deal with Cornwell’s older books and the now-obsolete computer technologies and medical practices, but others may enjoy it, sort of like opening a time capsule. Her latest novels continue to incorporate modern techniques and equipment being used in the real world of medicine, virtual autopsies for example.
This review is not for those who are already loyal fans of Patricia Cornwell. It’s to alert readers newly interested in fast-paced medical thrillers that we have her series of books in the library just waiting for your discovery! Check the WRL catalog for Postmortem, in print or in audiobook on CD.