Excerpt: 'Book of the Dead'
A tennis star's murder sparks mystery in Patricia Cornwell's new novel.
Oct. 23, 2007 — -- 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.
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.
"I suppose we need to go through this again so you completely understand my position," Scarpetta says to Captain Poma, who now rests his chin on his hand as if he is having an intimate conversation with her over a glass of wine. "Had she been killed at two or three o'clock that afternoon, then when her body was found at approximately ¬eight-¬thirty the following morning, she would have been dead at least seventeen hours. Her livor mortis, rigor mortis, and algor mortis are inconsistent with that."
She uses a laser pointer to direct attention to the ¬three-¬dimensional muddy construction site projected on the ¬wall-¬size screen. It's as if they are standing in the middle of the scene, staring at Drew Martin's mauled, dead body and the litter and earthmoving equipment around it. The red dot of the laser moves along the left shoulder, the left buttock, the left leg and its bare foot. The right buttock is gone, as is a portion of her right thigh, as if she had been attacked by a shark.
"Her lividity . . ." Scarpetta starts to say.
"Once again I apologize. My English ¬isn't so good as yours. I'm not sure of this word," Captain Poma says.
¬"I've used it before."
"I ¬wasn't sure of it then."
Laughter. Other than the translator, Scarpetta is the only woman present. She and the translator ¬don't find the captain amusing, but the men do. Except Benton, who ¬hasn't smiled once this day.
"Do you know the Italian for this word?" Captain Poma asks Scarpetta.
"How about the language of ancient Rome?" Scarpetta says. "Latin. Since most medical terminology is rooted in Latin." She ¬doesn't say it rudely, but is ¬no-¬nonsense because she's well aware that his English becomes awkward only when it suits him.
His 3-D glasses stare at her, reminding her of Zorro. "Italian, please," he says to her. "I never was so good in Latin."
¬"I'll give you both. In Italian, 'livid' is livido, which means bruised. 'Mortis' is morte, or death. Livor mortis suggests an appearance of bruising that occurs after death.""It's helpful when you speak Italian," he says. "And you do it so well."
She ¬doesn't intend to do it here, although she speaks enough Italian to get by. She prefers English during these professional discussions because nuances are tricky, and the translator intercepts every word anyway. This difficulty with language, along with political pressure, stress, and Captain Poma's relentless and enigmatic antics, add to what already is rather much a disaster that has nothing to do with any of these things. But rather, the killer in this case defies precedents and the usual profiles. He confounds them. Even the science has become a maddening source of ¬debate—¬it seems to defy them, lie to them, forcing Scarpetta to remind herself and everyone else that science never tells untruths. It ¬doesn't make mistakes. It ¬doesn't deliberately lead them astray or taunt them.
This is lost on Captain Poma. Or perhaps he pretends. Perhaps he ¬isn't serious when he refers to Drew's dead body as uncooperative and argumentative, as if he has a relationship with it and they are squab-bling. He asserts that her postmortem changes may say one thing, and her blood alcohol and stomach contents say another, but contrary to what Scarpetta believes, food and drink should always be trusted. He is serious, at least about that.
"What Drew ate and drank is revealing of truth." He repeats what he said in his impassioned opening statement earlier today.
"Revealing of a truth, yes. But not your truth," Scarpetta replies, in a tone more polite than what she says. "Your truth is a misinterpretation."
"I think ¬we've been over this," Benton says from the shadows of the front row. "I think Dr. Scarpetta has made herself perfectly clear."
Captain Poma's 3-D ¬glasses—¬and rows of other 3-D ¬glasses—¬remain fixed on her. "I regret if I bore you with my reexamination, Dr. Wesley, but we need to find sense in this. So please indulge me. April seventeenth, Drew ate very bad lasagna and drank four glasses of very bad Chianti between ¬eleven-¬thirty and ¬twelve-¬thirty at a tourist trattoria near the Spanish Steps. She paid the bill and left, then at the Piazza di Spagna parted company with her two friends, who she promised to rejoin at Piazza Navona within the hour. She never appeared. That much we know to be true. What remains a mystery is everything else." His ¬thick-¬framed glasses look at Scarpetta, then he turns in his seat and speaks to the rows behind him. "Partly because our esteemed colleague from the United States now says she's convinced Drew ¬didn't die shortly after lunch or even that same day."
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