Thursday, February 03, 2005

I am not sure

why I remain fascinated with Patricia Cornwell after how awful her last few books were--Blowfly's truly unredeemably bad, and the Jack the Ripper book was truthfully the most outrageous thing I've read in a long, long time (I'm not a historian, but I'm a professional scholar & have a historical temperament and I simply couldn't believe the sort of conjecture that passes for historical argument in this one--it is interesting like Howell Raines's Atlantic story was interesting, because of how much it inadvertently reveals about the author despite the author's apparent intention to present the story as straight historical truth). At any rate I descended on Trace when I spotted it on the New Books shelf at the public library. And as I'm completely knackered and altogether brain-dead by this point it provided a surprisingly enjoyable read. It's certainly much better than her last few. True, it shows signs of Cornwell's impatience with Scarpetta and the whole Richmond scene she's worked for all these years (Scarpetta's old building is literally being torn down, and you get the same feeling about the novel, that it's a partly disassembled version of the pattern). There are all kinds of weird plot gaps, the usual wild implausibility by which one case gets connected to a completely separate one, the almost psychotically disconnected interludes where you watch an examination of paint flakes under the microscope, etc. But you know what? It's good fun, in a perverse way. Cornwell remains a more stylish writer than many others, and there's something about Scarpetta that continues to appeal to me, even as the fantasy and wish-fulfillment aspects wear thin.

This short online biography includes the strange episode which makes Cornwell second only to Anne Perry for curious real-life tie-ins to crime fiction (I'm quoting from the site): "In June 1996 her name came up in the wake of a bizarre real-life drama. A then 41 year old ex-FBI agent Eugene Bennett had repeatedly claimed that his ex-wife was a lesbian and that she had an affair with Patricia Cornwell in 1992 when the now 42 year old Marguerite Bennett worked as an instructor and hostage negotiator at FBI's Quantico facilities. Eugene Bennett did some rather bizarre things ending on June 23, 1996, when he took his wifes minister hostage and planted pipe bombs at the Northern Virginia Community College where Marguerite Bennett worked as a police lieutenant. For this he was found guilty of attempted murder (and several other accounts) by a jury on February 11, 1997, (despite an insanity claim) and recommended for 61 years in prison. On May 15 1997 he was sentenced to 23 years in prison."



  1. Jenny, I feel the same way about Patricia Cornwell. I haven't read Trace yet for the same reasons. I couldn't stand the last couple of books and I didn't feel Trace would be worth my time. But being a big fan of series and reading books in order, it's hard for me to leave this one hanging. After reading your comments, it might be worth a couple of hours if I can find it at the library.

  2. Yeah, it's definitely not a book to buy in hardcover (probably not even in paperback), but I really did enjoy it.