Review: Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

I’d first read and loved the Kay Scarpetta series as a teenager, devouring the books as they came out all the way up until around 2005 when life happened and I generally stopped reading. In order to pick it back up I’d been planning to re-read the series to refresh my memory, though why I think this was a great idea considering how badly John Grisham’s or Sidney Sheldon’s books have fared over time I do not know. Spoilers follow.

Kay Scarpetta’s novels have a set of fixed main characters: her own character of Chief Medical Examiner, the cop Marino, the FBI profiler Benton, and the young niece Lucy. There are also a bunch of office staff, a housekeeper, and family in another state. I loved Benton’s first arrival and remembering catching myself smiling wide when I realised it was him, especially as I thought he wouldn’t be arriving until a later book. The tech is hilariously outdated to the point where I couldn’t not eye roll over another gushing sentence containing floppy discs or IBM machines.

I had never realised how differently written the books are. Postmortem essentially takes place over maybe 15 long conversations padded either side with some minor descriptions. Some conversations are between people other than Scarpetta, such as the one where Marino interviewed the husband of Lori Peterson which is relayed through Marino bringing her the tape. Others are straightforward investigative brainstorming, such as Benton and Scarpetta, and the ones between Marino and Scarpetta are a balance of getting to know and uncomfortable truths, especially the one about Bill.

Kay Scarpetta is a woman in a male-dominated field and it’s referred to a couple of times, such as:

I was one of four women in my class at Hopkins. I was too naive in the beginning to realize what was happening. The sudden creaking of chairs and loud shuffling of paper when a professor would call on me were not coincidence. It was not chance when old tests made the rounds but were never available to me. The excuses – “You wouldn’t be able to read my writing” or “Someone else is borrowing them right now” – were too universal when I went from student to student on the few occasions I missed a lecture and needed to copy someone else’s notes. I was a small insect faced with a formidable male network web in which I might be ensnared but never a part.
Isolation is the cruelest of punishments, and it had never occurred to me that I was something less than human because I wasn’t a man. One of my female classmates eventually quit, another suffered a complete nervous breakdown. Survival was my only hope, success my only revenge.

She’s divorced, without children, and married to her job having risen up in the ranks all the while having to prove herself because she’s a woman which which to my teenage self was inspiring though perhaps not the divorced part!

However, I never picked up on her views of Marino and it’s spoilt my opinion of her. As the novel is told from her point of view we see a lot of her characterisation of Marino, such as:

  • I wasn’t sure if he didn’t like women, or if he just didn’t like me.
  • He was hard to read, and I’d never decided if he was a good poker player or simply slow.
  • He was exactly the sort of detective I avoided when given a choice – a cock of the walk and absolutely unreachable.
  • It was idle speculation to go back to the beginning and try to figure out what had gone wrong. Occasionally I thought about it anyway. What it was about me. I had been polite to Marino the first time we met, had offered him a firm and respectful handshake while his eyes went as flat as two tarnished pennies.

Being disappointed with a role model is an odd sensation. It’s an even odder sensation when it’s a fictional role model and when you didn’t even realise they were one in the first place. Turns out that Kay Scarpetta was one of mine and re-reading Postmortem may have been a mistake. There is no warmth to her character and it all feels very clinical.

The story itself is engrossing, in fact the whole book is. Horrific and calculated murders by an unknown assailant are guaranteed to add an edge. The actual solving of the crime was entirely based on luck and instead of detailing the methods to catch the guy, the crimes were left as easy infodump exposition at the end of the book after his death. This seems odd in a series which is all about the methodical gathering of evidence by a medical examiner! The guy would not have been caught had he not been provoked, however, the provocation and everything else was left to so much chance – I would have expected him to have commited plenty more murders out of spite and I don’t think I’d have blamed him.

I clearly read this as someone who knew the story and the characters which is probably clouding my judgement a bit. I knew the husband wasn’t the killer and didn’t provide any info except the smell which rendered his entirely long interview pointless. I knew the handsoap and the lit up traces were important but going through the lengthy discovery wasn’t necessary something I needed. Knowing the book allowed me to really focus on the writing though. The dialogue flowed well and never didn’t feel natural. The descriptions were enough without being overbearing and the book flowed well between sections.

5/5 – With all that I have written I feel it wouldn’t be a 5/5, but this is a great book and my dislike of the book is in credit on how good it is and how complex the characters are. I really hope the other books in the series continue to be this great.

My Goodreads updates:

  • 01/22 26.0%
    – Scarpetta is a cool aunt: pouring ten year old Lucy a glass of wine!
    – Benton’s arrival actually made me smile broadly – I’d not remembered him turning up in the first book!
    – The husband interrogation scene took way too long, but felt really organic. I think this is why I love Patricia Cornwell’s writing.
    – I am remembering bits and pieces from when I first read it.
    – A lot of foreshadowing.
  • 01/23 48.0%
    – I’d not realised before how different her style is – so far the book has mostly consisted of very long dialogues.
    – Who is Bill and why don’t I remember him especially as he seems so nice!
    – I don’t think I understand Scarpetta’s dislike of Marino, seems overly harsh at times.
  • 01/24 60.0%
    – I now remember why I didn’t remember Bill.
    – Marino helping Scarpetta makes no sense with their relationship
    – The way Scarpetta/Cornwell is gushing about computers I’m really looking forward to the next books in the series when technology advances.
  • 01/25 74.0%
    I’d forgotten how uncomfortable her scenes can be – the last 14% were pretty much just the Abby Turnbull scene followed by the Marino one in the car [though most of theirs seem to be in the car!]. Very uncomfortable listening.
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Snow and some travelling [Week 3] – #carocat2017

  • Sunrise after snowfall is usually quite pretty. 15/365
  • Snow covered old cemetery in #Hameln. 16/365
  • Pieces of the Berlin wall on the #Giessen train station square, adapted by art collective. More info here. 17/365
  • The ‘oh crap, I can’t use any other pictures for my daily picture as they include people not on the internet’ picture. 18/365
  • Snowy landscapes near Göttingen. [Yes, that’s train window glare] 19/365
  • I’d been looking for a small bag to store cables etc for travel for ages. Found it at @FlyingTigerDe. I love the slogan! 20/365
  • Realising late in the evening that I’ve not been wearing my Fitbit all day. 21/365

I went down to Hessen on the train for a few days this week to catch up with a friend. There was even more snow there than here and the countryside visible from the train was magical.

I only spent a little bit of time in Giessen and don’t think I had ever been there before. The town centre was an odd mix of shops and felt a bit disjointed and the shopping centre felt very soulless. I think I expected a bit more seeing it’s a well-known university town though it’s also possible that I didn’t give it enough of a chance perhaps.

I can’t remember the last time I’d seen my friend, we both did the mental maths on that and came up with 2014 though I think it may have been before that. Our friendship is different in the sense that we’ve never kept constant contact and have gone many months without speaking, but everything feels completely natural when we do meet up or talk.

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The Klüt hill in Hameln

klut-panoramaClick for full sized image.

On Saturday I went up the Klüt hill in Hameln. I had tried to the previous weekend, but a mix of bad weather and it being too late in the day meant I had only made it halfway then. Overall the trip was 15km over 22k steps. The actual part around the hill was 5.4km and I was out of the house for around five hours.

klut-roundtripThe path up was incredibly steep and halfway up I questioned my wisdom of walking up the very steep ‘shortcut’ which was still completely snowed in instead of, you know, taking the sensible longer way. Just below the tower I did actually loose my footing and did a bit of a clumsy climb holding on to snow with my hands. It’s one of those ‘you need to have been there to understand’ kind of moments. I think this path would be lovely with no snow and am looking to go up it again then. Otherwise, it actually is dangerous and, seeing how I am not an expert at this, I really shouldn’t have done it as I could have seriously harmed myself all for having a shorter walk.

View towards Pyrmont The view from the top is breathtaking on both sides and the sunshine on the day was gorgeous plus there was enough crisp white untouched snow to turn everything into some kind of winter wonderland. The tower and the walkway were restored a few years back and are pretty and apparently the tower is open during some summer days. There’s also a hotel next to it which is currently between owners. Waking up to these views would be surreal!

The Klüt tower and a walkway

There are meant to be some remnants from an old fort around the tower and the overall area, however, due to the snow I couldn’t see that nor any historical monuments. The snow, whilst nice and pretty, isn’t great for seeing things like that!

Walking away from the tower is a long road to the Forsthaus Finkenborn which is a country pub/restaurant next to a massive playground which had over 30 children playing there on the day. There is also a section with several outdoor climbing walls. From there is another long and winding road back down the hill.

There are a lot of info panels around paths about the trees, upkeep, history, and animal life aimed at both children and adults. It was a little bit too cold to read them all, but there’d be enough up there for more than one trip. I really liked that the area was clearly looked after well.

There are a few other hills around here plus a lot of the Klüt that I didn’t get to see and I’m looking forward to exploring all of that!

These are some of the pictures I took in the order of the walk. There are also pictures of the lower section of the hill on last week’s post. Continue reading

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Halfway up the Klüt in Hameln!

hameln-view-from-klut
Click here for full-size image.

Going up the Klüt has always been a goal of mine, even as a little kid. But I’ve never been much of a walker and there’s no public transport up there so I’ve never been there.

The Klüt isn’t actually that high up – apparently it’s just 258m high and has a tower, a currently-between-owners hotel, a restaurant a little further away, a climbing wall, and some leftover historical fort and armaments.

I made it about halfway up today, underestimating the amount of snow there would still be in the woods. Some parts had about 30cm and it was very slippery in parts. I also don’t have waterproof shoes! I saw a lot of steep paths, a monument, and an already quite stunning view over Hameln.

Next time I’ll make sure the snow is cleared first!

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Food, bits around the house, and snow! [Week 2] – #carocat2017

  • Frozen blueberries and soy yoghurt have become one of my favourite things recently. 8/365
  • This image doesn’t look like much, but that right there was that one in 20 perfect cups of coffee! 9/365
  • Not only did the update take almost two hours, but it brought with it ‘delightful’ changes to the taskbar and fontsizes. 10/365
  • It’s amazing that such few colours can create such a vivid scene. Always wondered where it could be. 11/365
  • I don’t have leftover wool – if not enough to knit something with it, then I usually repurpose, such as blind strings. 12/365
  • The last of the Christmas spekulatius biscuits. 13/365
  • Flurry of snowflakes – ended up being about 8cm on the ground. 14/365

I had a lot of stuff to do this week plus the weather wasn’t grand which I used as perfect excuses to not go out for walks much. Of course, I know that it affects me and that I am actually happier when I go out for long walks, but I still haven’t figured out how to consistently motivate myself!

I’ve also been told that the first image looks “like many small skinned lamb skulls with bulging eyes” which I personally can’t see as to me it’s blueberries, but I’m sorry for posting it yet again. :)

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Birds, ducks, skies, and boats [Week 1] – #carocat2017

  • Stunning sunset on New Year’s day. 1/365
  • I got many problems, but a lack of books on my Kindle isn’t one of them! 2/365
  • More birds than The Birds plus a beached boat. Random discoveries! 3/365
  • The Tolkien and the Loth Lorien seen in Hamburg’s harbour city. Fitting for the day after JRR’s birthday! 4/365
  • Chasing the dusk across frozen fields. 5/365
  • One of the coolest postcards I’ve ever received – the sides fold up into a 3D frame! 6/365
  • Have you got your ducks in a row? Partially frozen stream leaves little space for them. #7/365

I take enough pictures, but I don’t ever really collect them. To be able to do this over a year and have the records of it is something I’ve always wanted to do so I’m yet again giving it another shot.

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Music I listened to in 2016

2016 over the months

2016 over the months

carocat-last-fm-listening-history

Listening history over the years

I didn’t listen to music for a lot of 2016 and it’s only towards the end that I really picked it up again. Last.fm recorded a conflicting number – on one screen it’s 1200 and another 1069, but it’s a huge difference to previous years.

In addition to that are probably about the same amount that I couldn’t have scrobbled as it doesn’t seem to work from my phone’s player.

Most of the music I listened to came from soundtracks:

  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Hobbit
  • Star Wars
  • Star Wars – The Force Awakens
  • Game of Thrones [never really listened much to it before]
  • Westworld [new]
  • Downton Abbey
  • Dragon Age

Other music included Norah Jones [didn’t realise she had released a new [to me] album!], the songs from the TV show Nashville [pretty much the only country music I have ever listened to as I hadn’t much come across the genre before] and random playlists.

A year ago I would have said my favourite soundtrack composer is a toss-up between Howard Shore and John Williams, however, Ramin Djawadi has joined them above Klaus Badelt and Alexandre Desplat. My favourite new songs this year all came from Game of Thrones or Westworld:

  • Light Of The Seven – the wonderful piano piece from the season 6 Game of Thrones finale.
  • Paint It, Black – Westworld.
  • Black Hole Sun – Westworld.
  • King Of The North – Game of Thrones.
  • My Watch Has Ended – Game of Thrones.

2017 promises more Game of Thrones music and another John Williams scored Star Wars release. Despite having listened to the Rogue One soundtrack a lot, I still can’t warm to it even though I like Giacchino’s music usually, such as Lost.

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