Not To Be Mist
Red Mist 2011. By Patricia Cornwell. Little Brown Jug. ISBN: 9781408702321
Ok... and so it’s the Christmas season once again and in my home that means one very important ritual once all the present opening and well wishing is done. Like every year for the best part of a decade and a half, my first book I read after every Christmas is the brand new Scarpetta novel by the Queen of Crime Fiction (at least that’s how I think of her), Patricia Cornwell.
This is another startlingly intense read and, once again, Ms Cornwell proves to us that she has created one of the most addictive pulp fiction characters of recent years... and I don’t mean to be disrespectful or to do the lady in question a disservice by that comment. I have absolutely the highest respect for pulp fiction and think it’s the most important kind of literature there is in the last couple of centuries. Kay Scarpetta follows in a long line of characters who is practically infallible (although Cornwell possibly wouldn’t want me saying that) and almost invincible in the face of evil. These characters are our heroes who we hold a light up to and say, yeah, these are the people we aspire to be like... fictional or not. As far as I’m concerned, Scarpetta joined the ranks of Sherlock Holmes, C. Auguste Dupin, Nero Wolfe, John Carter of Mars, The Shadow, Doc Savage and their ilk long ago and she is the shining hero of our generation. I count myself lucky to be alive as and when these stories are being written.
Red Mist is another corker of a story and, like Port Mortuary (reviewed here), it shares a somewhat shorter timeline than many of the Scarpetta novels I remember. Although not compressed into pretty much a 24 hour period like the former novel, the action does take place in only a few days on this one and, like Cornwell often does with her crackling and unbelievably well written prose, it seems to speed up and gather intensity like a snowball being rolled down a hill as it hurtles at pretty much breakneck pace towards the end of the novel.
This one’s very much focussed on Scarpetta as opposed to her supporting regulars but the usual cast are certainly all present and correct and there for her when they’re needed, with the addition of a semi-regular character who’s been absent from the novels for a while. My only real problem with this was that Lucy Farinelli, who I’ve been reading about since she was a little girl come to stay with “Auntie Kay”, was not in it as much as I would have liked (or expected given the characters this novel deals with... don’t want to give away too many spoilers here). Never mind... she can’t be the main show all the time and I’m always greatful that she turns up at all after her miraculous “cancer cure by gunshot wound to the head” from a number of years ago.
The novel picks up from the threads left over from the previous novel but, to be fair, I think you could jump right on into this one without having read Port Mortuary at all. So you could definitely use this one as a starting point if you so desired... although why you’d want to and not read the 18 other excellent Scarpetta novels that preceded this one I don’t know. Just start at the beginning if you’ve not already read her... this writer is phenomenally entertaining and informative... I don’t really understand all the “real life” science facts she peppers her books with but I’ve read enough of these to be scared of ever committing any kind of crime... it’s too easy to get caught (not that I’ve ever really been tempted to commit any crime to be honest... I like to humour myself that I have more sense than that).
Ok... short review again (hmm... a lot of the shorter reviews lately) but only because, frankly, the book is so perfect that it’s hard to be able to find much to criticise in it. This is first class reading and I’m pleased to recommend it to anybody who likes to read about unusual murders and their solutions... as always with Scarpetta, the mystery lies not with what was done but with how it was possibly accomplished or what unusual feature is drawing it to everybody’s attention. Another in a series of first rate crime novels by Patricia Cornwell and definitely worth your time. If anyone is still writing “page turners” in this century it’s Cornwell. In all good bookshops now.