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The Last Precinct    by Patricia Cornwell order for
Last Precinct
by Patricia Cornwell
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dr. Kay Scarpetta has good reason to be paranoid, as there seem to be a host of people out to get her. In fact the number has been increasing steadily over the last few books in this series about the tough-minded Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia. The Last Precinct builds strongly on foundations laid in Cornwell's previous two novels, Point of Origin and Black Notice, which should be read first. The latter ended with a dramatic attack on Kay, who is still in shock at the beginning of this book.

The author plays a very interesting game with her readers in this latest entry, in which she challenges everything they (and her heroine) believe to have happened in the previous books. She also provides a credible and detailed portrayal of Scarpetta's grief for the loss of Benton, sorely lacking in Black Notice. Of course there are the usual assorted gruesome killings, false trails, and attacks on Kay's integrity - more serious this time than ever before.

The latest volumes bring some interesting developments to the series. One is that the bad guys are getting progressively more up close and personal with Scarpetta. She gets some counselling this time, but a real person would surely be catatonic by now. Of course this super-heroine needs super-villains to match her and she gets them nicely paired and backed up by a crime syndicate worthy of a James Bond movie (there are also hints of a malevolent relative of Pete Marino's joining the action).

Cornwell has introduced a new and powerful ally to Kay, Lucy and Marino in New York prosecutor Jaime Berger, certain to appear again. She also shows signs of moving the doctor (along with niece Lucy) to New York city. Indeed, it looks like time for a major change for Dr. Scarpetta, who is perhaps running out of steam in her Virginia setting. It will be interesting to see how the series develops.

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