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This is the second Cornwell book I've read now, after unfortunately reading one of her newer and not-so-good novels. Luckily, I really enjoyed this one so I'm looking forward to a few more Cornwell novels in future.
I came across this in the library and noticed there are a few of her books there, though I'm not sure which ones have any sense of chronological order, so I just picked one randomly. On the cover of Trace it reads: 'Firing on all cylinders' - Daily Express, which is a good sign to hook you in.
Trace falls within the crime/thriller genre, and features one of Cornwell's key characters, Dr Kay Scarpetta. This novel is set 5 years after being given the boot as the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. After moving away and keeping herself busy, she gets a call out of the blue. She's been asked to go to the new building with the new chief, Dr Marcus, to help give her opinion as a Consultant Pathologist on the case of a teenage girl, Gilly Paulsson. Her body has been found naked, face down on the bed, and it seems like she was strangled, but there are few clues as to her murderer.
Scarpetta turns up with Marino, her sidekick, in tow to the new building only to be appalled by the state it's in. Dr Marcus is despised, nothing seems organised,
and everyone is in a mess. Her return to Richmond seems to cause a stir, being such a highly renowned Chief years previously, and it's clear that Dr Marcus isn't keen on this. Office politics aside, they begin to review to Paulsson case, speaking to her rather bizarre mother about her daughter and her ex-husband who lives elsewhere, and suspicions start to rise. Could this confused and rather strange woman be to blame for her daughter's murder? The water gets muddier when the father's history comes to light, and murkier still when other bodies are found that appear to possibly be linked. However, what links them and why seem to be unanswerable questions with so little to go on. Enter the FBI, who start confusing matters even more.
Factor in to this confusion Lucy Farinelli, Scarpetta's niece, who's having problems of her own. Her girlfriend was attacked in Lucy's large, expensive home, leaving little except unidentifiable prints and a warning in the form of a drawing of an eye. The girlfriend that was attacked is highly neurotic and seems to claim not to recall any details of the attack; to keep her out of harm's way, and to attempt to break the barracades to her memory and common sense, Lucy sends her to Benton, a professional and also Scarpetta's boyfriend.
As the story progresses we seem to see two or more different storylines and lots of questions but no answers. As the web of characters and their histories gather in complexity, the storylines begin to be clarified and start to diverge, and bits of the puzzle come together. I won't say any more on the plot, other than that it's quite original and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. I had some suspicions, but couldn't have guessed early on what and how different aspects were linked or why. I really enjoyed seeing how much information and different aspects of characters, scenes, motives etc come together, and Cornwell does it in a very systematic and articulate way.
Because of Cornwell's fluid writing style I found it easy enough to keep up with what was quite an intricate and intelligent plot. She's able to blend together each part of the story effortlessly and clearly, recapping the important points so as not to lose or confuse the reader without dragging things out too much.
The characters were created with a good degree of depth, making them three dimensional, interesting and believable. Relationships were also fairly well created, though I would have perhaps liked a little more on the Scarpetta-Benton front, which seemed to end quite abruptly and with little real in-depth analysis of it throughout. Having said that, it could be a good thing because the novel wasn't side-tracked by a love story, it just have it another avenue through which to create more interest and dynamic appeal.
Each scene was vividly painted, enough so that you could imagine for yourself what it was like and get a sense of the atmosphere. I thought this was done well because it meant I could 'lose myself' in the book a little easier, really getting a feel for what was going on and wanting to go back for more. I wasn't overly keen on the ending, which is probably the one downside, but wasn't bad enough to spoil the enjoyment of the book, I guess I just felt it ended a little abruptly. I would have liked a little more explanation, a little more character follow-up after the surprises were out of the bag.
Overall, this is one I'd recommend, both for those familiar and unfamiliar with Cornwell. It makes for a decent crime thriller that grips and pulls you in, and offers an original plot to keep things fresh and interesting.
489 pages over 58 chapters (paperback) Newer version selling on Amazon for £4.12
Overall... This is a recommended novel that's one of Cornwell's better crime thrillers. [Also reviewed by me, Cazkins, on DooYoo]