Unnatural Exposure

Unnatural Exposure_PatriciaCornwell_2576590

EGO AND AMBITION

4 STARS

A torso has been found in a Virginia landfill – just the torso, no legs, no arms, no head. This is the fifth one to be found in a landfill in several months and the tenth to be found internationally with the same MO. Only it’s not exactly the same MO. This time the appendages are severed through the bones rather than through the joints. This time the victim is elderly rather than youthful. This time the dismemberment occurred through a covering rather than being done to a nude body. And this time the stumps of the remaining appendages and the buttocks are covered with a crop of virulent pustules.

Before the lab work can come back on the nature of the virulent pustules, Scarpetta and company discover they have a high-placed and virulent leak of information to the media as well as to local political and legal officials. Scarpetta and Marino are quite certain the leaks are coming from Detective Inspector Percy Ring of the Virginia State Police. Ring has a highly placed uncle in law enforcement and Ring has a highly developed ambition, making it clear that being a cop is only a low rung on his professional ladder.

And it appears that Ring intends to jump several rungs at once by trying to first discredit Scarpetta with the leaks, and then by trying to make a quick arrest before Marino or Wesley can. He then intends to destroy Scarpetta and Lucy by outing Lucy’s lesbian status to the FBI (don’t ask, don’t tell is the current government policy) while painting Scarpetta with the same brush.

Along with the bio-toxin storyline and the sub-plot with Ring, the novel also includes snippets into the relationship between Kay and Benton as well as that of Lucy and Janet. Marino is still his loyal but obnoxious self but is a fairly minor character in this entry.

And, of course, mental allowances have to be made for the fact that this book was copyrighted in 1997, which, as I write this review, is 17 years ago. The Internet was still in its early years commercially and AOL was the primary service provider. Thus, the reader today will have to embrace the explanations of technology long defunct as a history lesson or else slide over it to the meat of the story.

Also, the bio-toxin storyline is a good break from the typical plots that have preceded this in the Scarpetta series. There is still gore and murder and psychopathy but Kay isn’t running from guns, knives or bombs this time. However, it is incredibly clear that she is running from herself.

And with that, I must issue a SPOILER ALERT before I explain why I downgraded my review of a very well written and capably researched novel. This is the 8th book in a series that now contains 21 entries, each arriving about once a year since 1990. Even if reviews previously written on Cornwell’s books or comments made on discussion sites hadn’t alerted me to what happens in the next book and then in the 12th book, I would have picked up serious clues to it in this entry. Even if I had been reading this book in 1997 instead of 2014, I would have known what was to come.

Kay’s former lover, Mark, an FBI agent killed several years ago in a terrorist attack on a London rail station, is brought up – out of the blue – by a colleague near the beginning of the book. Later, again out of context with the current situation, Lucy brings up Mark again, telling Kay that she has not resolved her feelings for him, in spite of Benton. And stuck in the middle of another scene is a comment about Benton being jerked away from their current crisis to attend to an old case, a case he later casually and tersely relates to organized crime. Finally, the epilogue is totally devoted to Kay going to the London rail station to see where Mark was killed, asking Benton for the truth behind the FBI account of the death.

I realize that the more famous authors, and those aspiring to be better authors, plan the basic plots for the successive entries in their series well in advance. Put the four cited scenes that stand out like the proverbial sore thumb with this passage spoken by Kay to Benton, three pages from the end, and Cornwell’s forward path is clear: “I want to know if this is all fiction…How do I know this isn’t some cover-up, some ruse, because he’s alive and in hiding? A protected witness with a new identity…I must know the truth. If it really happened…I believe this is some great big Bureau lie.”

Even in 1997, Cornwell was no rookie in the writing business. While there is no cliffhanger, per se, the telegraphing of future intent is clumsy, at best. Those out-of-context scenes are as obvious as an author solving a crisis by deus ex machina.

Cover Art from Goodreads

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