Excerpt: 'Book of the Dead'

Author Patricia Cornwell has brought Kay Scarpetta back. The character, who helped make Cornwell a best-selling writer, returns in the author's new book, "Book of the Dead."

Fans also will recognize familiar characters from previous books, like Dr. Self and Pete Marino.

The novel has the forensic pathologist Scarpetta checking into the death of a young tennis star after she discovers a connection with the unidentified body of a South Carolina boy.

For more on this murder mystery, read an excerpt below.

Chapter 1

Ten days later. April 27, 2007. A Friday afternoon. Inside the ¬virtual-¬reality theater are twelve of Italy's most powerful law enforcers and politicians, whose names, in the main, forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta ¬can't keep straight. The only ¬non-¬Italians are herself and forensic psychologist Benton Wesley, both consultants for International Investigative Response (IIR), a special branch of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). The Italian government is in a very delicate position.

Nine days ago, American tennis star Drew Martin was murdered while on vacation, her nude, mutilated body found near Piazza Navona, in the heart of Rome's historic district. The case is an international sensation, details about the ¬sixteen-¬year-¬old's life and death replayed nonstop on television, the crawls at the bottom of the screen doing just ¬that—¬crawling by slowly and tenaciously, repeating the same details the anchors and experts are saying.

"So, Dr. Scarpetta, let's clarify, because there seems to be much confusion. According to you, she was dead by two or three o'clock that afternoon," says Captain Ottorino Poma, a medico legale in the Arma dei Carabinieri, the military police heading the investigation.

"That's not according to me," she says, her patience beginning to fray. "That's according to you."

He frowns in the low lighting. "I was so sure it was you, just minutes ago, talking about her stomach contents and alcohol level. And the fact they indicate she was dead within hours of when she was seen last by her friends."

"I ¬didn't say she was dead by two or three o'clock. I believe it is you who continues to say that, Captain Poma."

At a young age he already has a widespread reputation, and not an entirely good one. When Scarpetta first met him two years ago in the Hague at the ENFSI's annual meeting, he was derisively dubbed the Designer Doctor and described as extraordinarily conceited and argumentative. He is ¬handsome—¬magnificent, ¬really—¬with a taste for beautiful women and dazzling clothes, and today he is wearing a uniform of midnight blue with broad red stripes and bright silver embellishments, and polished black leather boots. When he swept into the theater this morning, he was wearing a ¬red-¬lined cape.

He sits directly in front of Scarpetta, front row center, and rarely takes his eyes off her. On his right is Benton Wesley, who is silent most of the time. Everyone is masked by stereoscopic glasses that are synchronized with the Crime Scene Analysis System, a brilliant innovation that has made the Polizia Scientifica Italiana's Unità per l'Analisi del Crimine Violento the envy of law enforcement agencies worldwide.

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