Cornwell, Patricia. Hornet’s Nest (1996)
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 377 pages, $25.95 hardcover
ISBN 0 399 14228 2
I hoped that a break from Dr. Scarpetta might rejuvenate Patricia Cornwell’s writing. It didn’t. This is among the worst novels I’ve ever read. Most books this poorly written would end up in some editor’s wastebasket.
The kindest thing that can be said about this book is that it lacks focus. It’s impossible to sum up Hornet’s Nest in a sentence or two.
First, there’s no central character. Near the beginning, the novel looks as if it’s going to focus on Andy Brazil, a volunteer police officer and rookie newspaper reporter who wants to cover the police beat. But after introducing Brazil, the novel shifts to Deputy Police Chief Virginia West. Then, about half way through, the emphasis shifts again, this time to Police Chief Judy Hammer. Most of the second half of the book covers Hammer’s relationship with her husband. The paths of these three characters cross superficially throughout, but it’s never clear exactly whose story we’re reading.
Second, because there’s no single main character, there’s also no plot focus. Brazil, West, and Hammer all have their own separate stories. Initially it looks as if the pursuit of a vicious serial killer will provide the focus, but that aspect of the action soon disappears except for a nominal reappearance at the end.
Another troublesome aspect of this novel is the stereotyped characters it presents: the Jewish banker who, behind the scenes, wields the true political power in the city; the mayor, a good ol’ boy who wants to hush up the killings because they’re bad for business and tourism; and Hammer and West, two highly successful women professionals whose personal lives are in shambles.
And then there’s West’s cat, Niles, who’s not a typical cat at all. Niles receives psychic messages from the flashing red light atop the bank building, and drags a five-dollar bill and a pair of wet panties from the dryer to give West the message “money laundering.”
It’s difficult to figure out what Cornwell was trying to do with this novel. Perhaps it’s the introduction of a new series; that would explain its open-endedness. But as a self-contained novel, it fails miserably.
© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown