Catch up on shows with The Coast On Demand
Friday, October 19, 2012 12:00 PM
Fossils gave Patricia Cornwell the idea for her latest Kay Scarpetta adventure. It was while on a dig in a Canadian dinosaur bone bed (to which she was invited by Dan Aykroyd and his wife; oh, to be a bestselling author with access to comedic geniuses) that she found a 70-million-year-old tooth, and inspiration.
The discovery takes fictional form when, at the outset of The Bone Bed, chief medical examiner Scarpetta is sent an anonymous email containing footage of a 48-year-old palaeontogist, Emma Shubert. The woman has just been reported missing from the site at which she was digging in a remote part of Alberta, Canada. Two days before her disappearance, she found a tooth, the first to be unearthed in what is a relatively new bed.
The matter would be of neither concern nor relevance to our good doctor if not for the arrival of the email, and shortly afterwards, a severed human ear. However, there is no body, and the disappearance hasn’t taken place in Scarpetta’s jurisdiction; this is the last we hear of Emma Shubert until three-quarters of the way through the story, which is dominated by the mystery of a body found in Massachusetts Bay.
The dead woman is extracted from the water by Scarpetta herself, who is sees at once that the removal procedure must be delicate in the extreme. The victim has been bound and weighted so as to be pulled apart during the recovery process; a killer’s game, tantalizing the authorities with evidence that slips literally out of their grasp. The booby-trap, Scarpetta surmises, is “[S]ome evil manipulation . . . [s]omeone toying with us. Some malignant game being played out with deliberateness”.
The malignancy grows blacker when the autopsy shows signs of mummification of the body, suggesting the woman was murdered some time before and kept in cold storage before being dropped in the water.
What isn’t immediately clear is either the identity of the victim or whether she is connected to another case in which Scarpetta has become inveigled. In a rare moment of carelessness, the medical examiner made a throwaway comment in an email that earned her a subpoena to appear in court. The case involves a billionaire industrialist on trial for the murder of his missing wife, and there’s no doubt he’s the manipulating, toying type.
There must be a connection – if only because Cornwell wouldn’t waste our time with an irrelevant subplot – but the woman in the water is neither the missing wife nor Emma Shubert. The only thing the trio have in common is Scarpetta herself.
To say all is tidily resolved is to issue no spoilers, and The Bone Bed is a competently written and well-paced thriller, if not one of Cornwell’s best. In the third decade of the Scarpetta series, Cornwell has lost none of her affection for or pride in her creation: in one of the novel’s best scenes, featuring Scarpetta’s not-so-shining moment in court, we are reminded of the doctor’s staggering list of qualifications and that, for all her foibles, mere crims are no match for her body-reading gifts.
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