This is the fifth Kay Scarpetta novel from Patricia Cornwell and I have to wonder at the title. The body farm in Tennessee which one might think was the focus of the novel barely covers two chapters (if that). The rest of the time is spent chasing Temple Brooks Gault, who was the nemesis of the previous book (Cruel and Unusual) and the next book in the series (From Potters Field). In this book, the actual killer has taken hints from Gault’s previous works of depravity and used it to her (that’s right, you read that correctly) advantage.
To give you some background. Kay Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Examiner for the state/Commonwealth of Virginia and is part of a crime solving troika which also includes FBI Special Agent and forensic profiler Benton Wesley, and Richmond PD Homicide detective Peter Marino. Wesley and Marino were part of a local VICAP (Violent Criminals Apprehension Program) initiative and at the end of the previous book Scarpetta became an FBI consultant.
So a body of a little girl turns up in some backwater town in N. Carolina and everyone thinks it’s Gault so they chase their tails for half the book until Scarpetta realizes that nothing fits (especially as Gault’s been seen in London). The local cops drop like flies and Marino gets involved with the dead girl’s mother while Scarpetta and Wesley start to have an affair. To cut a long story short, the killer is the girl’s mother and it appears as though she’s responsible for every death in the town from her husband and daughter to one of the local cops, and tries to kill Scarpetta.
The B plot revolves around Scarpetta’s niece, Lucy, whose mother is children’s author, lousy mother and obnoxious human being that deserves a slap every time she opens her mouth. Lucy is working for the FBI’s research division and supposedly steals sensitive information. The truth is far more sinister: Lucy’s girlfriend is working with Gault to get into the FBI’s worldwide computer database called CAIN and uses Lucy’s thumb print to gain access. The plots dovetail as when the killer mom tries to kill Scarpetta she almost succeeds in killing Lucy instead who’s actually driving the car.
I would give this book a 5/10. It could have been a lot better but it could also have been a lot worse.