Review: "Cause of Death" by Patricia Cornwell


Cause of Death
by Patricia Cornwell
Berkley, 1997


Patricia Cornwell’s seventh Dr. Kay Scarpetta novel, originally published by G. P. Putnam in 1996, is a blander production than her earlier work—Postmortem (1990), Body of Evidence (1992)—but there are enough plot twists, character banter, paranoia, and mysterious deaths to keep it entertaining. While Scarpetta, the Virginia State Medical Examiner, is covering for her Tidewater pathologist while he attends his mother’s funeral in England, a journalist Kay knows dies while diving in the restricted waters of the Inactive Naval Shipyard.
     When Scarpetta arrives on scene, a Navy investigator tries to intimidate her away, but Scarpetta, being Scarpetta, digs in and demands access. What she finds under the waves is an AP reporter named Ted Eddings. The Navy, and pretty much everyone else, likes the story that Ted was diving for Civil War relics and had an accident. A theory Kay doesn’t share since Ted had no obvious wounds or symptoms of drowning. When she won’t drop the case, Scarpetta begins receiving, at first subtle and later obvious, threats from an unknown source.
     Cause of Death begins as a straightforward forensic detective thriller—a mysterious death begets an investigation that uncovers further questions until a solution is found—but in the last 50 or so pages the narrative, a bit jarringly, swerves into something else entirely. Entertainment Weekly said in its review, “Cause of Death is less like a crime novel than a screen treatment for a David Koresh-meets-Tom Clancy TV movie-of-the-week.” A good comparison since those final chapters crashed into international thriller territory with terrorists, Libyan ambitions, and a thunderous visit from the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. A nasty cult is involved, too. Cornwell went big with the story, but a better play would have been to keep it small and criminal and believable. But even with that major flaw, Cause of Death kept me turning the pages with a rush all the way to the end and I’m sure I’ll read another Cornwell book sometime.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.


Popular Posts