Reviewed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Dr. Kay Scarpetta is having the worst day at work. Newly back on the job as Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Virginia, she’s juggling a potential serial killing, a winter storm, uncooperative colleagues, intrusive reporters, family drama, a missing cat—and, oh, yes, a poisoning attempt. And that’s just the first 50 pages of Patricia Cornwell’s latest mystery, Autopsy. It stars her tough, street-smart, and experienced forensics expert—the 25th in the long-running Scarpetta series, which began in 1990. It will satisfy longtime series fans, maybe even woo over a few new readers, and it will have you ready for the forthcoming TV series, slated to star Jamie Lee Curtis as Scarpetta.
Set right at the time of the book’s release (late November 2021), in the milieu of pandemic-era, post-January 6 Washington, D.C., Autopsy has a gritty, up-to-the-minute feel. Cornwell drops readers smack in the middle of the action—and Scarpetta’s action-packed professional life is nonstop. Written in a first person, present-tense narration, the book reads like we’re privy to Scarpetta’s private diaries, and with the short timespan of the story (just a couple of days), it really has a “Day in the Life” feel.
A mutilated body is found on train tracks through a remote metro park, and a scientist is missing from a top secret laboratory working on the space program. Signs point to a stalker ex-boyfriend, or a case of industrial espionage—but Dr. Scarpetta isn’t so sure. Something about the case calls to mind another death at the park, one her predecessors quickly swept under the rug. Is there a serial killer at work, and what secrets was the victim hiding? And how is it all connected to a catastrophe in outer space?
For a new reader, it’s a bit like tuning into your first episode of a long-running cop show in the middle of the season. Although this is Kay Scarpetta’s first appearance since 2016’s Chaos, little time is spent introducing the major players—most of whom will be familiar to fans of the series—but the characters are clearly delineated and easy to fall in stride with. Cornwell—via Scarpetta—wastes no time bringing her readers up to speed and getting them right in the middle of the very current plotline.
At times part Michael Crichton movie, part Forensic Files episode, Autopsy is a fast-paced, nonstop ride through politics, murder, and current events, all set against the picturesque backdrop of Thanksgiving weekend at the Capital. A sure winner for Scarpetta fans, and an accessible choice for newcomers to the series, Autopsy is available now here at Amazon from William Morrow Books.