Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, April 09, 2006
      ( 4/09/2006 03:51:00 PM ) Bill S.  

BLOW FLIES IN THE OINTMENT – Still doing catch-up on the big pile of remaindered books I have in a corner of the study, and I recently polished off Patricia Cornwell's Blow Fly, one of the mystery writer’s books featuring forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta. It's not a mystery series that I'm strongly attached to: the first few novels (Post Mortem, Body of Evidence) worked as creepy forensic procedurals with a good dose of city and sexual politics thrown in, but as the series has progressed, the writer's focus has shifted more to her characters and less to the niceties of plausible plotting. Blow Fly compounds the problem by shifting its voice; where the earlier Scarpetta novels are told in first person by our spikey heroine, this 'un is told in third person and gives us the perspectives of three other series regulars: Kay's impulsive lesbian niece Lucy, gross and self-destructive copper Marino and Kay's overly intellectual "dead" lover Benton Wesley. Problem is, as I read the story from this shifting PoV, I quickly realized that I didn't really like any of these supporting characters. What was tolerable seen through the eyes of unreliable narrator Kay became irritating once we actually got into the characters' shoes.

If the book's mystery was the least bit intriguing, perhaps that wouldn't matter, but here, too, Fly falls down. The forensic details, once the series' strong suit, are so incidental that we don't get to see Scarpetta doin' her stuff until the book's final fourth. Perhaps nudged by Thomas Harris' success, Cornwell has been playing the genius serial killer plotline through several books now, and the results have grown pretty tiresome. Because she deliberately makes 'em such stunted creatures, her repeat villains outwear their welcome long before they're caught or killed. She also appears unwilling to give any of her psychopathic baddies a big satisfying send-off. And when one of the book's two sibling killers escaped to plague our cast yet another day, I found myself going, Yeah, so what?

Cornwell's Scarpetta novels continue to hold their own on the best-seller charts; there've been two Scarpetta novels out since Blow Fly's release (Trace and Predator), and they've both apparently done well with the majority of her audience. Me, I'm not sure I'll even be pursuing these books once they hit the $5.95 tables . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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