“From Potter’s Field” by Patricia Cornwell

Cornwell, Patricia. From Potter’s Field  (1995)  
Scribner, 412 pages, $24.00 hardcover  
ISBN 0-684-19598-4

In the few days surrounding Christmas, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Pete Marino (now a police captain), and FBI agent Benton Wesley pursue Temple Gault, a serial killer who has appeared in earlier Scarpetta novels. Scarpetta’s niece, computer whiz Lucy, now age 21 and soon to graduate from the University of Virginia, is still working on the FBI’s computerized project CAIN (Criminal Apprehension Information Network), which Gault has apparently broken into. 

Dr. Scarpetta does little but whine in this book.  She begins by bemoaning how terrible her job in general is since she always has to deal with dead people who’ve been victimized by various monsters; she gets more strident as the police tighten security around her when they suspect Gault is closing in on her and Lucy.  At one point Marino insists on staying at her house so she won’t be there alone.  (Kay, of course, will not heed his warnings that she should stay somewhere else until Gault is captured.)  At about 5:00 a.m. she sneaks out to an all-night grocery store.  When she returns Marino screams at her about the chance she’s just taken and orders her to get into the house.  She screams back, “This is my house.  Not your house. . . . This, goddam it, is my house. And I will get in it when I please” (p. 293).  Marino (bless his heart) snaps back, “Good. And you can die in it just like you can die anywhere else.”

Scarpetta is hardening into a mean-spirited, alienated person with a gigantic chip on her shoulder. Since much of her isolation and misery seem self-induced, it’s getting harder and harder to care about her. The book ends on an ominously cold note, with Scarpetta standing over a dying man on the New York City subway tracks saying, “A train was coming and I did not move him free of the tracks. I walked away and did not look back”  (p. 411).

© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown

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