Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's a mystery to me...

Someday I'm going to figure out why I keep reading Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta mysteries.

I'm not saying that they aren't good books, and I'm not saying that Cornwell isn't a good writer. It's just that there is something...I don't know...unsettling is the best word I can come up with, something unsettling about her books.

I just finished Scarpetta (Berkeley Books, 2008; 579 pages), and once again I'm not sure how I feel about the novel. This is the same place I find myself after reading most of Cornwell's books. On the one hand, I finished reading it, in fact found the last half of the book so compelling that I read until I fell asleep last night and woke up at 6:30 this morning to finish reading it. The first half, on the other hand, took me about a week to get through, partly because I was busy doing other things that needed to be done, but partly because I could only take so much of the book at a time and kept having to put it down.

At least this one wasn't written in the first person, present tense which, as I've said here before, probably in connection with other books by Cornwell (since I can't think, off the top of my head) of another novelist who uses that form), drives me crazy. On the other hand, the vast majority of the nearly 600 pages of the novel take place in just about one 24-hour period. Either that, or the time sense of the book is so off that I wasn't able to tell that more time had gone by.

Having almost the entire action of a novel take place in one day or so isn't a problem in and of itself. In fact, I'd like to try to tell a story that way at some point. It's just that those are a lot of pages to take to describe the action taking place in a single day. To Cornwell's credit, she manages this without unneeded details while she moves the story along at a quicker pace than one would imagine, given the time frame occupied by the story.

My biggest complaint about the book is that I figured out who the bad guy was fairly early in the story. On the other hand, after I was fairly sure who the murderer was, the game became to try to figure out exactly how everything fit together. Cornwell did a pretty good job of concealing that until close to the end of the story. It was an enjoyable read, especially the second half of the book.

Still, as always with Cornwell's books, I was somehow unsettled the whole time I was reading, and I still feel that way a little bit now that I've finished reading the thing. I don't know. Maybe she sets out to do that to the reader. If so, she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, at least with this reader. I'm not sure why a writer would set out to do that, but I'm sure stranger things have happened.

Despite the unease I felt reading the book, I do recommend it for those of you who like mysteries. Cornwell will probably never be my favorite writer but, despite the experimental feel, stylistically speaking, of some of her work, she is undoubtedly a very good writer.


Winnie said...

I had to smile when I read this. I have read all her Kay Scarpetta books. I used to LOVE them. I loved the way the characters were depicted and their relationship to one another. There was a point when the Marino character went so off the deep end it bothered me. I see she is steering him back, but to me it derailed the series for me. Yet, I continue. I think for me, it is the Scarpetta character that keeps me coming back.

littlemissattitude said...

Thanks for your comment, Winnie.

I think part of the problem for me might be that I haven't read all of the series, and of the ones I have read, I haven't read them in order. This isn't usually a problem for me - for example, I've read most of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books, but not at all in order, and it hasn't bothered my enjoyment of them at all (even though I was advised that I should read them in order). But, with Cornwell's books, with the peculiarities (eccentricities?) of her storytelling style, it could be a factor.