Book Review: Patricia Cornwell’s Dust

Posted October 18, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Patricia Cornwell’s Dust



Patricia Cornwell

forensic mystery that was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on November 12, 2013 and has 512 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Cruel & Unusual, Port Mortuary, Red Mist, Bone Bed, Flesh and Blood, Depraved Heart, The Scarpetta Factor, Trace

Twenty-first in the Kay Scarpetta mystery series and revolving around a forensic pathologist and her FBI agent profiling husband. The story is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My Take

A much better story than the last Kay Scarpetta I read, but I do feel as though I’ve missed a story what with all the drama about Pete Marino. And I find myself hoping he can’t make out with the Cambridge PD and comes crawling back to Kay!

That said, this is a rather pissy book. Everyone’s getting pissy with someone. Marino is pissy with Kay and Benton: Kay because Marino’s both attracted and repelled by her, and Benton because Benton’s so much better than Marino is, and Kay chose him over Pete. Is Marino really that insecure that he needs Kay to constantly wish/command/demand his presence everywhere she goes? As for Kay, she is angry that he never let her know that he was quitting. And I’m feelin’ that righteous anger until…Kay confesses that she talked him out of quitting every time he wanted to make a change. So, hullo? Why would he give her the opportunity to do it again?

And Kay is being whiny. To be fair, she is sick with the flu and she just got back from helping with the murdered children in Connecticut. Pete’s defection is piled on that, so it’s probably fair for her to be moping. More whining that is driving me mad, if only because she keeps harping on it, is her worry that Benton will or has gone mad himself through constantly putting himself in the criminal’s mind. She whines on about it a LOT more than any symptoms we’ve seen from Benton. Yadda, yadda, yadda, give it a rest. We get the idea already. I swear if Cornwell had cut out half the yammering on about Kay’s feelings about the school, Benton, and Marino, she could have cut the book in half.

If Cornwell is trying to create tension and drama, stop. Just stop. Create the drama with show and not whine. Please.

There is so much possibility here for that tension and drama from Kay’s worry that someone is watching her; the conflict between Kay and Pete; Pete’s constant whining about how necessary he was for her — and Kay does go on to note how necessary he was in being her investigator; Granby’s vendetta and all the ways he could take any of them down; Kay, Benton, and Lucy’s plot to take Granby down; Benton’s anger and frustration; and, the murders themselves. There are also some good messages in here, but Cornwell is not evoking our emotions. She’s not making us feel the fear, the frustration. Instead, she keeps telling us.

It all feels author-manufactured — I’m simply not feeling it. I’m not frightened or worried. I am appalled at what happens in the story, don’t get me wrong. It is possible to participate in the story on an intellectual level. But I do want the emotional level as well. Hmmm, got to thinking about it, and Benton’s conflict with his boss and Martin’s experiences are the closest I come to engaging emotionally.

Then when you get to the criminal side, this is sleazy all the way around on so many sides and levels. It’s a terrifying premise that Cornwell presents, and I don’t blame Kay for not wanting to believe it. That the FBI doesn’t want to solve this case. That they’ll go so far as to suborn medical personnel and fiddle with CODIS. Nor can I blame Lucy one teeny tiny bit for the actions she takes and the tricks she gets up to with military-grade cellphones, top-secret apps, and, um, erasing information. I’m jealous of Lucy’s toys, *grin*.

“‘That’s some ride you’ve got,’ he says this to Lucy. ‘I was looking for the gun turret.’

‘You have to order it special,’ she says.”

On the positive side, yes, there is one after all my whining, it’s a kick to “listen in” on Kay’s thoughts as she watches Benton case the scene. It’s fun seeing how she sees herself and Benton as a couple. It’s a curious tip about the Vicks, and when you think about it, yeah, it makes a lot of sense that smell provides a greater range of clues while a lack of smell would make it easier to focus. Since it’s a first-person narrative from Kay’s perspective, Benton has to tell us what he’s thinking, and if that ain’t fascinatin’…

I do agree with Marino about our judicial system these days. The little guy can’t afford to go to court what with paying witnesses and jurors, needing a PR firm, a roomful of lawyers, and who knows what else. The funny…and very believable scene about the students at MIT being so absorbed in their studies that they forget bathing, eating, sleeping, and more. That they wouldn’t notice a murder unless it happened on top of their books or computers. Kay mentions Locard’s exchange principle, and I just read another book that mentioned this in a bit more detail — Frédérique Molay’s Crossing the Line, 2.

Cornwell makes use of the Sandy Hook school shootings to set Kay’s state of mind. No, she never says it’s Sandy Hook, just a school shooting in Connecticut. It sounds terrible, unfortunately Cornwell never makes me feel how awful. Instead, I go into my mind to manufacture the feelings Cornwell should be pulling out of me. Anndd, don’t mind me. I’m being bitchy. No, it’s not the flu. I’ve been annoyed with Cornwell for the last two books I read, so I’m pitching a mild fit. This really is more like her old writing about Kay.

A walk down memory lane, the good and bad of it. Cornwell takes us back ten years as part of Kay’s pissy fit. To the day when Pete was insisting on moving to Florida with her. At the time, Kay and Pete were both desperate for each other, but not for the same reasons. Further back when she first met and hated Benton, their affair, the years when Benton was “dead”.

Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t understand why Pete wanting to go back to law enforcement is so incredibly awful. Why does Kay think all the other “kids” will think she was bad? Lots of people feel the need to change jobs, environments. Cops who leave to do other types of work sometimes miss the rush of being a cop and want to come back to it. What is the big deal?

You do have to wonder about a mother who teaches her mentally disturbed son how to use a gun. This need our society seems to be acquiring for spectacle killings. Wholesale murder done for the fame of it. Makes ya wonder if maybe we do need more gun control if the idiots using them can’t be trusted to use them responsibly. Then again, when guns are illegal, only criminals will use them. Doesn’t help us much.

How dense is Kay? Or should I ask that question of Cornwell? She’s been telling us that Kay knows of the problems Benton has been having at work, so why would she feel slightly shocked or not understand that Benton doesn’t want anything going to the Bureau? Has she been taking too much flu medication?? She goes on to say that Benton has been having trust issues with the FBI. Duhhh… With all the trouble Kay has had with bureaucracy and officials in the past, is she really still that naive? As for Marino having such a tough time making the decision to let Lucy take the server, even I know that once the FBI gets its hands on something, the local LEOs will never see or hear of it again. I don’t care how conflicted Marino is about Lucy, he’s got to know he has a better chance of finding out what’s on it if Lucy takes it whereas the FBI won’t even give him the time of day.

It is fascinating to read how they sort out the clues. Determining what is a clue, how it relates, why that clue exists, how it contributes to what happened. It’s the psychological, physiological, mechanical, history, medical, toxicology, ballistics, computers, and more that goes into an investigation. That analysis Kay does to Geist about the accidental death some seventeen years back is amazing. The things the body and the scene can say if only one takes the time to look.

Profiling is another tool used to find the bad guy, so why is Granby wanting to toss it out the window? I don’t get that. Wouldn’t you want as much information about a potential suspect as possible?

There may be a killer out there, but it’s the cat-and-mouse with the FBI that ratchets up what fun and tension does exist.

The Story

It’s a dead body without a mark on her. Too familiar to Kay even though she’s never seen anything similar before, as it sounds like a series of murders Benton has been working. Murders he should never have breathed about to her, as Granby has demanded a total blackout with no sharing of the investigative information.

On a personal front, it doesn’t help that someone is watching Kay.

Things only get murkier with Benton shut out of the investigation, Lucy diving ever deeper as her relationship with Gail Shipton emerges, and Granby determined to tell everyone who he wants the Capital Murderer to be.

The Characters

Dr. Kay Scarpetta is currently the chief medical examiner of Massachusetts and the director of the Cambridge Forensic Center (CFC). Special Agent Benton Wesley is a profiler with the FBI and still her husband. Whether he’s still FBI at the end of the book, well, who knows… Rosa is their housekeeper. Sock is Kay’s rescue greyhound. The amazingly tech-oriented Lucy Farinelli, Kay’s niece, is still doing incredibly well; she’s with Janet. Jet Ranger is their very spoiled bulldog. Lucy is also the CFC’s forensic computer and technology expert. Dorothy is Kay’s “self-absorbed…, narcissistic male-addicted” sister, “who’s guilty of criminally neglecting her only child”. She writes children’s stories. Grams is Kay and Dorothy’s mother.

Cambridge Forensic Center
Bryce Clark is Kay’s chief of staff; Ethan is his significant other. Dr. Luke Zenner is one of the pathologists. Rusty and Harold are part of the transport team, and they’re thrilled to not have to take orders from Marino anymore. Anne is a radiologic expert trained in many disciplines, except that of society. Dr. Ned Adams is a “certified odontologist obsessed with the minutiae of teeth” — and on-call for the CFC. Ernie Koppel is the most senior microscopist and trace evidence examiner. Gloria is a DNA scientist. The PIT is their Progressive Immersion Theater in which they can recreate a murder scene in holographic 3-d.

Jennifer Garate is interviewing as Marino’s replacement. Dr. Venter is the chief in Baltimore. Dr. Jerry Geist was an old-school pathologist who wanted to write Lagos’ death off as an accidental death.

Cambridge PD
Pete Marino has quit working for Kay (after ten years!) and is back to being a detective. Quincy is his rescue German shepherd whom he’s training, sort of, okay, fluffing it badly, to be a police dog. Detective Sil Machado is working the case with Marino. Officer G.B. Rooney is car 13.

Other police departments include:
Andy Hunter worked a case which Kay investigated of a wrestler at MIT who died suddenly. Seems Andy doesn’t like Marino either. NEMLEC is the North Eastern Massachusetts law Enforcement Council and includes fifty-plus police departments that share equipment and expertise. Officer Randall Taylor is with Watertown PD.

Special Agent-in-Charge Ed Granby is based in Boston and is Benton’s boss these days, and he hates Benton. He’d like nothing better than to toss him out. Colleagues include Warren, Stewart, Butler, Weir, and others.

The Massachusetts murders
Gail Shipton is about to go to trial on a high-stakes litigation case. Carin Hegel, a high-powered attorney in Boston known as a pit-bull in the courtroom, is her lawyer. Haley “Swan” Swanson works with a PR firm, Lambant and Associates, that handles crisis management and is the friend Gail was with who reports her missing. Barney Moore is her dentist. Sakura Yamagata is a fashion designer who took a header from the roof of her nineteen-story apartment building. Dr. Franz Schoenberg is a psychiatrist in Cambridge. Enrique Sanchez works maintenance for MIT and owns a pickup truck.

Double S is…
…an international financial management company that has a past history of possible mismanagement. Dominic Lombardi owns the company and is being sued by Gail. Jadwiga “Ika” Caminska is Dom’s administrative assistant. The Cirque d’Orleans may be one of Dom’s distribution arms.

The FBI murders
Klara Hembree is the first victim they know of, and she’s originally from Cambridge. Sally Carson was a professor. Julianne Goulet was a concert pianist.

Martin Lagos was fifteen some seventeen years ago who disappeared when his mother, Gabriela Lagos, became one of Kay’s cases in Virginia back in 1996. She was an art historian who oversaw exhibits at the White House. Martin’s best friend at the time was Daniel Mersa. His mother, Veronica Mersa, and Gabriela were great friends. Senator Frank Lord had been a longtime friend of Kay’s at the time.

Carl is a Marriott hotel clerk. Barbara Fairbanks is a news correspondent Kay doesn’t like. Gavin Connors is a journalist with the Boston Globe and a friend of Bryce and Ethan’s. Jake is a homeless guy in Florida with a care for elephants.

The Cover and Title

The cover is perfect, for it’s the tricolored dust that Kay finds at that murder scene. A curious contrast between the flowing lines in the dark background with the scratchy threads caught within the title. The author’s name is a silver holograph.

The title is a stretch, although this very colorful Dust is what ties them all together.