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Predator: Kay Scarpetta Mysteries    by Patricia Cornwell order for
by Patricia Cornwell
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The story in Predator develops slowly, so that it takes a while to find the thread of the plot. At this stage in her career, Dr. Scarpetta has been winkled out of her longstanding position as Virginia's Chief Medical Examiner, and now is a director at the National Forensic Academy in Florida, where her old friend and colleague, Pete Marino, heads investigations. Scarpetta's niece, Lucy Farinelli, should be working with them, but is mostly absent.

Kay's long-time (and long distance) lover, Dr. Benton Wesley, is working at Harvard. He's in charge of the PREDATOR research study, which uses brain imaging and interviewing techniques to compare normal subjects with serial predators - including ex-cop Basil Jenrette who killed many young women. Kay also consults on this project, though she worries about staff security in the presence of violent offenders. Cornwell frequently switches point of view amongst her leads, including a victim and the villain, Hog, who kidnaps and tortures, under the direction of a woman. Hog masquerades as a citrus tree inspector.

As always in this series, relationships amongst Scarpetta's team are tense and edgy. After an incident at one of the Academy hell scenes for which Pete was blamed, he's angry with Kay. Pete's also consulting a celebrity psychiatrist, Dr. Marilyn Self. Though prickly as ever, he's lost weight and is steadily reinventing himself. The brilliant (and now also very rich) Lucy has a secret, and has been avoiding those close to her, especially her aunt. She's fallen into a lifestyle of casual gay liaisons, including one with Stevie, a seductive young woman with red hands painted on her body (one of the victims in the story has been similarly painted).

Kay's discovery that Benton has known Lucy's secret for some time puts their relationship at risk. And, as often occurs in Scarpetta's world, a sleazy staff member, Joe Amos, is spying on his bosses and sabotaging right, left and center. Kay is already looking into the case of a murdered San Francisco doctor, when she receives a call about two sisters and foster children gone missing in Hollywood (the investigator, Reba Wagner, is an ex-flame of Pete's), and then learns of a similar disappearance of a family from a Christmas Shop. Cornwell ties all these seemingly unrelated plot elements together successfully in a rather abrupt conclusion.

While this was not my favorite in the series, anything by Patricia Cornwell is worth the read, and I always enjoy her lyrical presentation of forensics, as in 'In the old days, a piece of evidence usually walked onstage alone. Now, with the sophistication and sensitivity of scientific instruments and processes, a solo becomes a string quartet or a symphony. The problem remains what to collect first.'

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