1999; 527 pages. Book #10 (out of 22) of the Scarpetta series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Murder-Mystery; Thriller. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
The freight ship Sirius has just arrived in Richmond harbor from Antwerp, and has some curious cargo to declare. A body, quite decomposed, is lying in one of the shipping containers.
Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner, has the unenviable task of securing and investigating the crime scene, collecting the body, transporting it to the morgue, and trying to determine the cause of death. And while she’s at it, see if she can determine the identity of the victim.
She does have one clue already, though. A message, presumably from the killer, scrawled on the inside of the container. It reads “Bon voyage, le loup-garou”. French, eh? I wonder what a loup-garou is.
Oh crap, it means “werewolf”.
What’s To Like...
There are three storylines to keep track of in Black Notice. There’s the crime investigation itself, which is why people read Patricia Cornwell books. There’s Scarpetta’s personal life, which is why people read the Scarpetta series in order. And there’s the “office politics” tale, which involves petty thefts, bogus e-mails, and backstabbing bosses and coworkers.
All the characters were new to me, since I haven’t read any other books in this series. Scarpetta is the protagonist, of course, but I suspect Lucy and Police Captain Marino are recurring characters. Marino has the ability to be both annoying and charming at the same time.
I especially liked the technical parts of Scarpetta’s job. I was reminded of the old Jack Klugman TV series Quincy M.E., but television has to present “sanitized” versions of things like autopsies. Here, we get to “see” the real life of a Medical Examiner. Ripping open chest cavities, removing and weighing organs, inserting rectal thermometers, etc. Fun times.
This is a first-person POV story. Scarpetta and Marino do a lot of smoking and drinking, which seemed to fit with the setting. Ditto for the frequent cussing. Since it was written in 1999, some of the details are outdated – businesses use AOL as their e-mail service provider, the Concordes are still flying, and faxing is the best way to send documents to someone else. Wowza. And FWIW, the syndrome featured here, hypertrichosis, is a real, albeit rare, malady.
Kewlest New Word ...
Soporific (adj.) : tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.
Others : Avulsed (v.)
“What time did Detective Anderson show up this morning?” I asked him.
His answer was to go around flipping on light boxes. They glowed blankly along the upper walls.
“Sorry I’m late. I was on the phone. My wife’s sick,” he went on.
He has used his wife as an excuse so many times by now that she was chronically ill or a hypochondriac, had Munchausen syndrome or was almost dead. (pg. 107)
”You’ll really like this café,” he said. “It’s a secret. You’ll see. No one in here speaks anything but French and if you don’t speak French, you have to point on the menu or get out your little dictionary, and the owner will be amused by you. Odette is very no-nonsense but very nice.”
I was scarcely hearing a word.
“She and I have a détente. If she’s pleasant, I patronize her establishment. If I’m pleasant, she lets me patronize her establishment.” (pg. 443)
“You think we might ever convince Dr. Carmichael that ‘cardiac arrest’ is not a cause of death? Everyone’s heart stops when he dies. The question is why did it stop.” (pg. 92)
There were some slow spots. In the first half of the book, most of the attention is on the office politics angle and the stress in Kay’s personal life. If you’re reading the book for the murder-mystery, things will drag at times. Just hang in there; the second half is all about the killer and his bloody spree.
The main disappointment for me with Black Notice was its ending, which felt rushed and clunky. Our killer is on the loose, with Richmond’s finest searching for him, so where does he go? You guessed it, Scarpetta’s house, where our plucky ME handles him with tension-lacking ease. To boot, the resolution of the office politics storyline is abrupt and unbelievably convenient. It’s almost as if the author got tired of the story around page 500, and decided to wrap things up as quickly as possible.
Nevertheless Black Notice was a page-turner for me, which says something about Cornwell’s writing ability. And who knows, maybe I just picked one her weaker storytelling efforts to start with. I don’t think I’ll commit to reading the other 21 books in order, but Kay Scarpetta is sufficiently intriguing to merit reading some more books in the cases.
7 Stars. Add 1 star if you are reading this series in order.