Fiction: “Cause of Death” by Patricia Cornwell

Why do I keep doing this to myself? Why? Oh, right: I’m a fucking masochist.

So because I have some weird, genetic disposition that requires me to read Patricia Cornwell whenever I fly on a plane, I brought the next book in the series with me to California. And it is worse than From Potter’s Field.

The scene opens with Kay Scarpetta housesitting for one of her deputy chiefs on New Year’s Eve. She receives a phone call about a dead person found at an old Navy Yard. But then the cops call later in the morning, and it’s the first time someone from the police called her, meaning the killer called her first or whatever. Turns out the dead guy is a reporter she knew and was friendly with (of course he was!), and he died while scuba diving.

It was on page 7 when I made my first dogear:

I hid a key only [her niece, Lucy] could find, then loaded medical bag and dive equipment into the trunk of my black Mercedes. [7]

DIVE EQUIPMENT?! Okay, FIRST OF ALL: who the fuck brings scuba equipment to a housesitting gig on NEW YEAR’S EVE in VIRGINIA. I might understand it if it was in the Bahamas or St. Thomas or somewhere, but VIRGINIA?! And SECOND OF ALL, since WHEN does Kay scuba-dive?! This is the seventh freaking book in the series, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard about her being able to scuba-dive. And though it doesn’t say so anywhere, I’m sure she does it perfectly.

She’s still such a snob. And lords it over everyone. For instance, she’s a superior cook:

I surveyed the kitchen, which was pitiful compared to the one I had at home. I did not seem to have forgotten anything yesterday when I had driven down to Virginia Beach to shop, although I would have to do without garlic press, pasta maker, food processor and microwave oven. I was seriously beginning to wonder if [Deputy Chief] Mant ever ate in or even stayed here. At least I had thought to bring my own cutlery and cookware, and as long as I had good knives and pots there wasn’t much I couldn’t manage. [4]

Oh, come on, Kay — we both know you’ve never used a microwave in your life.

I pulled [Lucy] over to the stove and lifted the lid from the pot. A delicious steam rose and I felt happy.

“I can’t believe you,” I said. “God bless you.”

“When you weren’t back by four I figured I’d better make the sauce or we weren’t going to be eating lasagne tonight.”

“It might need a little more red wine. And maybe more basil and a pinch of salt.” [53]


And of course, God forbid she be an expert about just cooking.

“Do you always see indications in drownings?” he reasonably asked. “I thought drownings were notoriously difficult, explaining why expert witnesses from South Florida are often flown in to help with such cases.”

“I began my career in South Florida and am considered an expert witness in drownings,” I sharply said. [105]

But I can’t believe she didn’t take a moment to show her superiority in this tiny moment:

“Well, irregardless of what you call it, his orientation might somehow be important.” [39]

IRREGARDLESS is NOT A WORD. WHY DID YOU NOT SAY ANYTHING? In the middle of an autopsy, even? If I were you, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, as you insist on introducing yourself every damn time, I would have swung that Stryker Saw backwards towards his head yelling “IRREGARDLESS IS NOT A WORD YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE.”

It’s a pet peeve, okay?

In addition to being annoyingly superior and kind of bitchy, Kay also has a bit of an Annie Oakley-type fetish, in that she must be able to do anything better than a man:

My legs trembled as I climbed, for I was not as strong as Jerod and Ki Soo, who moved in all their [scuba] gear as if it weighed the same as skin. But I got out of my BC and tank myself and did not ask for help. [26]

And, of course, there’s her All About Me Syndrome:

“Good God. All this happened because of my car. In a sense, because of me.” [207]

So, what happens in the book? Does it matter? Oh fine. The dead reporter turns out to have gotten himself involved with this crazy whack-a-doo religious cult called the New Zionists, who have ties to Moammar Qaddafi and Libya, who want plutonium to build an atom bomb.

Three things:
1. If this stupid book causes me to get searched by the FBI for mentioning Libya in the same breath as plutonium, I will send a nasty letter to Patricia Cornwell. I may want higher blog traffic, but that is for TOTALLY the wrong reason.

2. How does a book written in 1996 have a reference to something that’s almost going on today, but not quite? I mean, come on, how weird is that?


My final question is: why do I keep reading these damn books? Well, I guess I have to answer with another question: why did I read all those Twilight books (and still have Breaking Dawn in my to-read pile)? Partly masochism, yes, I’ll grant you that: I take innate pleasure in groaning at some of the shit Kay Scarpetta pulls. But also, a tiny bit of curiousity. And a smidgen of hope. Hope that the books will get better, the curiosity to see if they do, and the realization that they probably won’t, but at least I’ll feel better ranting about it later.

And also: I read these on planes because you aren’t allowed to throw books on planes.

Grade for Cause of Death: 1 star


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