It is the week before Christmas. A tanking economy has prompted Dr. Kay Scarpetta - despite her busy schedule and her continuing work as the senior forensic analyst for CNN - to offer her services pro bono to New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In no time at all, her increased visibility seems to precipitate a string of unexpected and unsettling events. She is asked live on the air about the sensational case of Hannah Starr, who has vanished and is presumed dead. Moments later during the same telecast she receives a startling call-in from a former psychiatrist patient of Benton Wesley's. When she returns after the show to the apartment where she and Benton live, she finds an ominous package - possibly a bomb - waiting for her at the front desk. Soon the apparent threat on Scarpetta's life finds her embroiled in a surreal plot that includes a famous actor accused of an unthinkable sex crime and the disappearance of a beautiful millionairess with whom Lucy seems to have shared a secret past.
Scarpetta's CNN producer wants her to launch a TV show called The Scarpetta Factor. Given the bizarre events already in play, she fears that her growing fame will generate the illusion that she has a "special factor," a mythical ability to solve all her cases. She wonders if she will end up like other TV personalities: her own stereotype.
The Scarpetta Factor, the seventeenth in the series, finds the familiar cast of characters together again in New York. Marino is working for the NYPD; Benton Wesley uses his forensic psychological expertise at Kirby and Bellevue; and Lucy continues to dazzle with her expertise in forensic computer investigations as she works yet another case with NY prosecutor Jaime Berger.
kay scarpetta round up
Showing 1-4 of the 4 most recent reviews
1 . No factor
Posted January 18, 2010 by K , ChicagoI agree with Patty, Boston; and J, New york. This book seems to lack direction and definion. All the characters receive glancing bit parts, and just as they begin to get you involved with them, they're cycled out of the story. The ending was a bit of a stretch, I find I will have to go back and read the last half of the book to see if I missed the connections, or if the connections really aren't there.
2 . Boring
Posted January 05, 2010 by J , New York areaI agree with Patty Boston Area, this may be my last book from this author for a long time, perhaps never again. Ms. Cornwell's Scarpetta novels have become so similiar and repetitive one cannot differentiate one from the other. Would appreicate a new story with new characters. Would like to see existing characters experience some personal and professional growth and development. Lucy's angst/anger, Benson's angst/anger, Marion's angst/anger..Please all of you get a mitt and get in the game. Lets move on! I am also tired of Ms. Cornwell thinking it is necessary to provide extensive technological explanations. I don't think the author does this to enhance the story, instead I think the author does this to demonstrate how savvy she is with technology. I find these paragraphs tedious and not necessary. I found it a bit of a stretch (and a little confusing) how this mystery is solved and how the supsects were associated with each other. Amateurish. If I had not been housebound with a head cold I never would have finished the book. I strongly recommend not purchasing or taking the time to read.
3 . Not her best work
Posted November 23, 2009 by Chris , San Diego AreaScarpetta is a great character with a great supporting cast, but the emotions of all seem to be getting darker and somewhat extreme. People never seem annoyed, but they are often angry, enraged, and defeated. Whether these are reflections upon Cornwell's life or merely the planned progression of the series, I am not in the position to judge, but a little emotional contrast would give the reader something to rebound from.
I hope that Cornwell rekindles the magic of the earlier books (which I have read all of), but perhaps her passion for the character has met its match with the length of the series.
4 . Disappointing
Posted November 13, 2009 by Patty , Boston areaI usually cannot wait to read each Scarpetta book, but this one was just not one of my favorites at all. It lacked the tension of the other books, and maybe the author is just finding it hard to keep the series going or something. That's what it felt like. I think this may be my last Cornwell for a while, and I am so sorry about that.
October 17, 2009
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Excerpt from The Scarpetta Factor (A Scarpetta Novel: #13) by Patricia Cornwell
A frigid wind gusted in from the East River, snatching at Dr. Kay Scarpetta's coat as she walked quickly along 30th Street. It was one week before Christmas without a hint of the holidays in what she thought of as Manhattan's Tragic Triangle, three vertices connected by wretchedness and death. Behind her was Memorial Park, a voluminous white tent housing the vacuum-packed human remains still unidentified or unclaimed from Ground Zero. Ahead on the left was the Gothic redbrick former Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, now a shelter for the homeless. Across from that was the loading dock and bay for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where a gray steel garage door was open. A truck was backing up, more pallets of plywood being unloaded. It had been a noisy day at the morgue, a constant hammering in corridors that carried sound like an amphitheater. The mortuary techs were busy assembling plain pine coffins, adult-size, infant-size, hardly able to keep up with the growing demand for city burials at Potter's Field. Economy-related. Everything was.
Scarpetta already regretted the cheeseburger and fries in the cardboard box she carried. How long had they been in the warming cabinet on the serving line of the NYU Medical School cafeteria? It was late for lunch, almost three p.m., and she was pretty sure she knew the answer about the palatability of the food, but there was no time to place an order or bother with the salad bar, to eat healthy or even eat something she might actually enjoy. So far there had been fifteen cases today, suicides, accidents, homicides, and indigents who died unattended by a physician or, even sadder, alone.
She had been at work by six a.m. to get an early start, completing her first two autopsies by nine, saving the worst for last-- a young woman with injuries and artifacts that were time- consuming and confounding. Scarpetta had spent more than five hours on Toni Darien, making meticulously detailed diagrams and notes, taking dozens of photographs, fixing the whole brain in a bucket of formalin for further studies, collecting and preserving more than the usual tubes of fluids and sections of organs and tissue, holding on to and documenting everything she possibly could in a case that was odd not because it was unusual but because it was a contradiction.
The twenty-six-year-old woman's manner and cause of death were depressingly mundane and hadn't required a lengthy postmortem examination to answer the most rudimentary questions. She was a homicide from blunt- force trauma, a single blow to the back of her head by an object that possibly had a multicolored painted surface. What didn't make sense was everything else. When her body was discovered at the edge of Central Park, some thirty feet off East 110th Street shortly before dawn, it was assumed she had been jogging last night in the rain when she was sexually assaulted and murdered. Her running pants and panties were around her ankles, her fleece and sports bra pushed above her breasts. A Polartec scarf was tied in a double knot tightly around her neck, and at first glance it was assumed by the police and the OCME's medicolegal investigators who responded to the scene that she was strangled with an article of her own clothing.
She wasn't. When Scarpetta examined the body in the morgue, she found nothing to indicate the scarf had caused the death or even contributed to it, no sign of asphyxia, no vital reaction such as redness or bruising, only a dry abrasion on the neck, as if the scarf had been tied around it postmortem. Certainly it was possible the killer struck her in the head and at some point later strangled her, perhaps not realizing she was already dead. But if so, how much time did he spend with her? Based on the contusion, swelling, and hemorrhage to the cerebral cortex of her brain, she had survived for a while, possibly hours. Yet there was very little blood at the scene. It wasn't until the body was turned over that the injury to the back of her head was even noticed, a one-and-a-half-inch laceration with significant swelling but only a slight weeping of fluid from the wound, the lack of blood blamed on the rain.
Scarpetta seriously doubted it. The scalp laceration would have bled heavily, and it was unlikely a rainstorm that was intermittent and at best moderate would have washed most of the blood out of Toni's long, thick hair. Did her assailant fracture her skull, then spend a long interval with her outside on a rainy winter's night before tying a scarf tightly around her neck to make sure she didn't live to tell the tale? Or was the ligature part of a sexually violent ritual? Why were livor and rigor mortis arguing loudly with what the crime scene seemed to say? It appeared she had died in the park late last night, and it appeared she had been dead for as long as thirty- six hours. Scarpetta was baffled by the case. Maybe she was overthinking it. Maybe she wasn't thinking clearly, for that matter, because she was harried and her blood sugar was low, having eaten nothing all day, only coffee, lots of it.
She was about to be late for the three p.m. staff meeting and needed to be home by six to go to the gym and have dinner with her husband, Benton Wesley, before rushing over to CNN, the last thing she felt like doing. She should never have agreed to appear on The Crispin Report. Why for God's sake had she agreed to go on the air with Carley Crispin and talk about postmortem changes in head hair and the importance of microscopy and other disciplines of forensic science, which were misunderstood because of the very thing Scarpetta had gotten herself involved in--the entertainment industry? She carried her boxed lunch through the loading dock, piled with cartons and crates of office and morgue supplies, and metal carts and trollies and plywood. The security guard was busy on the phone behind Plexiglas and barely gave her a glance as she went past.
At the top of a ramp she used the swipe card she wore on a lanyard to open a heavy metal door and entered a catacomb of white subway tile with teal- green accents and rails that seemed to lead everywhere and nowhere. When she first began working here as a part-time ME, she got lost quite a lot, ending up at the anthropology lab instead of the neuropath lab or the cardiopath lab or the men's locker room instead of the women's, or the decomp room instead of the main autopsy room, or the wrong walk- in refrigerator or stairwell or even on the wrong floor when she boarded the old steel freight elevator.
Soon enough she caught on to the logic of the layout, to its sensible circular flow, beginning with the bay. Like the loading dock, it was behind a massive garage door. When a body was delivered by the medical examiner transport team, the stretcher was unloaded in the bay and passed beneath a radiation detector over the door. If no alarm was triggered indicating the presence of a radioactive material, such as radiopharmaceuticals used in the treatment of some cancers, the next stop was the floor scale, where the body was weighed and measured. Where it went after that depended on its condition. If it was in bad shape or considered potentially hazardous to the living, it went inside the walk-in decomp refrigerator next to the decomp room, where the autopsy would be performed in isolation with special ventilation and other protections.
If the body was in good shape it was wheeled along a corridor to the right of the bay, a journey that could at some point include the possibility of various stops relative to the body's stage of deconstruction: the x-ray suite, the histology specimen storage room, the forensic anthropology lab, two more walk-in refrigerators for fresh bodies that hadn't been examined yet, the lift for those that were to be viewed and identified upstairs, evidence lockers, the neuropath room, the cardiac path room, the main autopsy room. After a case was completed and the body was ready for release, it ended up full circle back at the bay inside yet another walk-in refrigerator, which was where Toni Darien should be right now, zipped up in a pouch on a storage rack.
But she wasn't. She was on a gurney parked in front of the stainless-steel refrigerator door, an ID tech arranging a blue sheet around the neck, up to the chin.
"What are we doing?" Scarpetta said.
"We've had a little excitement upstairs. She's going to be viewed."
"By whom and why?"
"Mother's in the lobby and won't leave until she sees her. Don't worry. I'll take care of it." The tech's name was Rene, mid-thirties with curly black hair and ebony eyes, and unusually gifted at handling families. If she was having a problem with one, it wasn't trivial. Rene could defuse just about anything.
"I thought the father had made the ID," Scarpetta said.
"He filled out the paperwork, and then I showed him the picture you uploaded to me--this was right before you left for the cafeteria. A few minutes later, the mother walks in and the two of them start arguing in the lobby, and I mean going at it, and finally he storms out."
"And obviously hate each other. She's insisting on seeing the body, won't take no for an answer." Rene's purple nitrile-gloved hands moved a strand of damp hair off the dead woman's brow, rearranging several more strands behind the ears, making sure no sutures from the autopsy showed. "I know you've got a staff meeting in a few minutes. I'll take care of this." She looked at the cardboard box Scarpetta was holding. "You didn't even eat yet. What have you had today? Probably nothing, as usual. How much weight have you lost? You're going to end up in the anthro lab, mistaken for a skeleton."
"What were they arguing about in the lobby?" Scarpetta asked.
"Funeral homes. Mother wants one on Long Island. Father wants one in New Jersey. Mother wants a burial, but the father wants cremation. Both of them fighting over her." Touching the dead body again, as if it were part of the conversation. "Then they started blaming each other for everything you can think of. At one point Dr. Edison came out, they were causing such a ruckus."
He was the chief medical examiner and Scarpetta's boss when she worked in the city. It was still a little hard getting used to being supervised, having been either a chief herself or the owner of a private practice for most of her career. But she wouldn't want to be in charge of the New York OCME, not that she'd been asked or likely ever would be. Running an office of this magnitude was like being the mayor of a major metropolis.
"Well, you know how it works," Scarpetta said. "A dispute, and the body doesn't go anywhere. We'll put a hold on her release until Legal instructs us otherwise. You showed the mother the picture, and then what?"
"I tried, but she wouldn't look at it. She says she wants to see her daughter and isn't leaving until she does."
"She's in the family room?"
"That's where I left her. I put the folder on your desk, copies of the paperwork."
"Thanks. I'll look at it when I go upstairs. You get her on the lift, and I'll take care of things on the other end," Scarpetta said. "Maybe you can let Dr. Edison know I'm going to miss the three o'clock. In fact, it's already started. Hopefully I'll catch up with him before he heads home. He and I need to talk about this case."
"I'll tell him." Rene placed her hands on the steel gurney's push handle. "Good luck on TV tonight."
"Tell him the scene photos have been uploaded to him, but I won't be able to dictate the autopsy protocol or get those photos to him until tomorrow."
"I saw the commercials for the show. They're cool." Rene was still talking about TV. "Except I can't stand Carley Crispin and what's the name of that profiler who's on there all the time? Dr. Agee. I'm sick and tired of them talking about Hannah Starr. I'm betting Carley's going to ask you about it."
"CNN knows I won't discuss active cases."
"You think she's dead? Because I sure do." Rene's voice followed Scarpetta into the elevator. "Like what' s- her- name in Aruba? Natalee? People vanish for a reason--because somebody wanted them to."
Scarpetta had been promised. Carley Crispin wouldn't do that to her, wouldn't dare. It wasn't as if Scarpetta was simply another expert, an outsider, an infrequent guest, a talking head, she reasoned, as the elevator made its ascent. She was CNN's senior forensic analyst and had been adamant with executive producer Alex Bachta that she could not discuss or even allude to Hannah Starr, the beautiful financial titan who seemingly had vanished in thin air the day before Thanksgiving, reportedly last seen leaving a restaurant in Greenwich Village and getting into a yellow cab. If the worst had happened, if she was dead and her body turned up in New York City, it would be this office's jurisdiction, and Scarpetta could end up with the case.
She got off on the first floor and followed a long hallway past the Division of Special Operations, and through another locked door was the lobby, arranged with burgundy and blue upholstered couches and chairs, coffee tables and racks of magazines, and a Christmas tree and menorah in a window overlooking First Avenue. Carved in marble above the reception desk was Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus. Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. Let conversations cease. Let laughter depart. This is the place where death delights to help the living. Music sounded from a radio on the floor behind the desk, the Eagles playing "Hotel California." Filene, one of the security guards, had decided that an empty lobby was hers to fill with what she called her tunes.
". . . You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave," Filene softly sang along, oblivious to the irony.
"There should be someone in the family room?" Scarpetta stopped at the desk.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Filene reached down, turning off the radio. "I didn't think she could hear from in there. But that's all right. I can go without my tunes. It's just I get so bored, you know? Sitting and sitting when nothing's going on."
What Filene routinely witnessed in this place was never happy, and that rather than boredom was likely the reason she listened to her upbeat soft rock whenever she could, whether she was working the reception desk or downstairs in the mortuary office. Scarpetta didn't care, as long as there were no grieving families to overhear music or lyrics that might be provocative or construed as disrespectful.
"Tell Mrs. Darien I'm on my way," Scarpetta said. "I need about fifteen minutes to check a few things and look at the paperwork. Let's hold the tunes until she's gone, okay?"
Off the lobby to the left was the administrative wing she shared with Dr. Edison, two executive assistants, and the chief of staff, who was on her honeymoon until after the New Year. In a building half a century old with no space to spare, there was no place to put Scarpetta on the third floor, where the full- time forensic pathologists had their offices. When she was in the city, she parked herself in what was formerly the chief's conference room on the ground level, with a view of the OCME's turquoise-blue brick entrance on First Avenue. She unlocked her door and stepped inside. She hung her coat, set her boxed lunch on her desk, and sat in front of her computer.
Opening a Web browser, she typed BioGraph into a search field. At the top of the screen was the query Did you mean: BioGraphy. No, she didn't. Biograph Records. Not what she was looking for. American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the oldest movie company in America, founded in 1895 by an inventor who worked for Thomas Edison, a distant ancestor of the chief medical examiner, not sure how many times removed. An interesting coincidence. Nothing for BioGraph with a capital B and a capital G, the way it was stamped on the back of the unusual watch Toni Darien was wearing on her left wrist when her body arrived at the morgue this morning.
It was snowing hard in Stowe, Vermont, big flakes falling heavy and wet, piled in the branches of balsam firs and Scotch pines. The ski lifts traversing the Green Mountains were faint spidery lines, almost invisible in the storm and at a standstill. Nobody skiing in this stuff, nobody doing anything except staying inside.
Lucy Farinelli's helicopter was stuck in nearby Burlington. At least it was safely in a hangar, but she and New York County Assistant District Attorney Jaime Berger weren't going anywhere for five hours, maybe longer, not before nine p.m., when the storm was supposed to have cleared to the south. At that point, conditions should be VFR again, a ceiling greater than three thousand feet, visibility five miles or more, winds gusting up to thirty knots out of the northeast. They'd have a hell of a tailwind heading home to New York, should get there in time for what they needed to do, but Berger was in a mood, had been in the other room on the phone all day, not even trying to be nice. The way she looked at it, the weather had trapped them here longer than planned, and since Lucy was a pilot, it was her fault. Didn't matter the forecasters had been wrong, that what began as two distinct small storms combined into one over Saskatchewan, Canada, and merged with an arctic air mass to create a bit of a monster.
Lucy turned down the volume of the YouTube video, Mick Fleetwood's drum solo for "World Turning," live in concert in 1987.
"Can you hear me now?" she said over the phone to her Aunt Kay. "The signal's pretty bad here, and the weather isn't helping."
"Much better. How are we doing?" Scarpetta's voice in Lucy's jawbone.
"I've found nothing so far. Which is weird."
Lucy had three MacBooks going, each screen split into quadrants, displaying Aviation Weather Center updates, data streams from neural network searches, links prompting her that they might lead to websites of interest, Hannah Starr's e-mail, Lucy's e-mail, and security camera footage of the actor Hap Judd wearing scrubs in the Park General Hospital morgue before he was famous.
"You sure of the name?" she asked as she scanned the screens, her mind jumping from one preoccupation to the next.
"All I know is what's stamped on the steel back of it." Scarpetta's voice, serious and in a hurry. "BioGraph." She spelled it again. "And a serial number. Maybe it's not going to be picked up by the usual software that searches the Internet. Like viruses. If you don't already know what you're looking for, you won't find it."
"It's not like antivirus software. The search engines I use aren't software-driven. I do open-source searches. I'm not finding Bio- Graph because it's not on the Net. Nothing published about it. Not on message boards or in blogs or in databases, not in anything."
"Please don't hack," Scarpetta said.
"I simply exploit weaknesses in operating systems."
"Yes, and if a back door is unlocked and you walk into somebody's house, it's not trespassing."
"No mention of BioGraph or I'd find it." Lucy wasn't going to get into their usual debate about the end justifying the means.
"I don't see how that's possible. This is a very sophisticated-looking watch with a USB port. You have to charge it, likely on a docking station. I suspect it was rather expensive."
"Not finding it if I search it as a watch or a device or anything." Lucy watched results rolling by, her neural net search engines sorting through an infinity of keywords, anchor text, file types, URLs, title tags, e-mail and IP addresses. "I'm looking and not seeing anything even close to what you've described."
"Got to be some way to know what it is."
"It isn't. That's my point," Lucy said. "There's no such thing as a BioGraph watch or device, or anything that might remotely fit what Toni Darien was wearing. Her BioGraph watch doesn't exist."
"What do you mean it doesn't?"
"I mean it doesn't exist on the Internet, within the communication network, or metaphorically in cyberspace. In other words, a BioGraph watch doesn't exist virtually," Lucy said. "If I physically look at whatever this thing is, I'll probably figure it out. Especially if you're right and it's some sort of data-collecting device."
"Can't do that until the labs are done with it."
"Shit, don't let them get out their screwdrivers and hammers," Lucy said.
"Being swabbed for DNA, that's all. The police already checked for prints. Nothing. Please tell Jaime she can call me when it's convenient. I hope you're having some fun. Sorry I don't have time to chat right now."
"If I see her, I'll tell her."
"She's not with you?" Scarpetta probed.
"The Hannah Starr case and now this. Jaime's a little tied up, has a lot on her mind. You of all people know how it is." Lucy wasn't interested in discussing her personal life.
"I hope she's had a happy birthday."
Lucy didn't want to talk about it. "What's the weather like there?"
"Windy and cold. Overcast."
"You're going to get more rain, possibly snow north of the city," Lucy said. "It will be cleared out by midnight, because the system is weakening as it heads your way."
"The two of you are staying put, I hope."
"If I don't get the chopper out, she'll be looking for a dogsled."
"Call me before you leave, and please be careful," Scarpetta said. "I've got to go, got to talk to Toni Darien's mother. I miss you. We'll have dinner, do something soon?"
"Sure," Lucy said.
She got off the phone and turned the sound up again on YouTube, Mick Fleetwood still going at it on the drums. Both hands on MacBooks as if she was in her own rock concert playing a solo on keyboards, she clicked on another weather update, clicked on an e-mail that had just landed in Hannah Starr's inbox. People were bizarre. If you know someone has disappeared and might even be dead, why do you continue to send e-mail? Lucy wondered if Hannah Starr's husband, Bobby Fuller, was so stupid it didn't occur to him that the NYPD and the district attorney's office might be monitoring Hannah's e-mail or getting a forensic computer expert like Lucy to do it. For the past three weeks Bobby had been sending daily messages to his missing wife. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, wanted law enforcement to see what he was writing to his bien-aim?e, his chouchou, his amore mio, the love of his life. If he'd murdered her, he wouldn't be writing her love notes, right?
From: Bobby Fuller
Sent: Thursday, December 18, 3:24 P.M.
Subject: Non posso vivere senza di te
My Little One,
I hope you are someplace safe and reading this. My heart is carried by the wings of my soul and finds you wherever you are. Don't forget. I can't eat or sleep. B.
Lucy checked his IP address, recognized it at a glance by now. Bobby and Hannah's apartment in North Miami Beach, where he was pining away while hiding from the media in palatial surroundings that Lucy knew all too well--had been in that same apartment with his lovely thief of a wife not that long ago, as a matter of fact. Every time Lucy saw an e-mail from Bobby and tried to get into his head, she wondered how he would really feel if he believed Hannah was dead.
Or maybe he knew she was dead or knew she wasn't. Maybe he knew exactly what had happened to her because he really did have something to do with it. Lucy had no idea, but when she tried to put herself in Bobby's place and care, she couldn't. All that mattered to her was that Hannah reaped what she sowed or eventually did, sooner rather than later. She deserved any bad fate she might get, had wasted Lucy's time and money and now was stealing something far more precious. Three weeks of Hannah. Nothing with Berger. Even when she and Lucy were together, they were apart. Lucy was scared. She was seething. At times she felt she could do something terrible.