99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
Each time I pick up a new Scarpetta novel, I am filled with hope that Patricia Cornwell will return to the style of the early novels that made me fall in love with the series. Sadly, this novel, like so many of the recent ones, is another big disappointment.
I'm not even going to bother trying to give a plot summary because it's hardly worth the effort. Yes, there's a disturbing murder of a 14-year-old girl, but it hardly counts for anything in this book. Instead we have the usual Lucy angst because her lover, Henri (Henrietta), was attacked and won't talk to her. We also have Scarpetta angst because Benton Wesley faked his death for years and didn't tell her. Wesley has angst as well because he's still keeping secrets from Scarpetta and Lucy. And why are Wesley and Lucy keeping the fact that Henri was attacked such a big secret from Scarpetta? Why don't these people just TALK to each other? Since they keep getting interrupted on the phone, then maybe they could try emailing each other.
Oh yeah, there's also Marino angst, with his long time crush on Scarpetta and a really bizarre "rough sex" scene involving him and the mother of the victim.
As usual, even though Scarpetta is a respected expert in forensic analysis, the bureaucrats are out to get her. She is summoned to her old ME office in Virginia to work on the case involving the 14-year-old girl and faces overt hostility by Dr. Joel Marcus, her successor. He calls her in to help with the case but doesn't even have the grace to pretend he's happy to have her there. Of course, the office has become a shambles under his direction-- but nobody seems to care that the man hired to replace the brilliant Scarpetta is incompetent.
The book ends abruptly and the reader is left shaking his/her head and asking, "What the heck just happened?" I wish Cornwell would dump Lucy-- she grows more annoying with each book; quit making all her plots revolve around Scarpetta's bizzare little circle of friends/lovers/family members; have Scarpetta and Wesley either work things out or give it up; and give Marino a girlfriend so he can stop salivating over Scarpetta. And while we're at it, let's have the bureaucrats recognize Scarpetta's brilliance and quit fighting her while she does what they hire her to do.
I can't quite give up on this series yet, because the books were just so good in the past. But it's getting harder and harder to keep reading them, and I no longer move them to the top of my reading stack.
54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2004
I was a HUGE Cornwell fan for years and recommended her books to EVERYONE. But I am so sad to see what is becoming of this series, and I'm tired of paying these prices only to be disappointed. First, what happened with Benton was downright cruel. In Cornwell's latest installment, Scarpetta and Marino seemed tired and washed out; the two made ME tired. And Lucy...what is with Lucy? I don't even like her character! The plots starts off on an interesting note, but it just went downhill from there. Marino wasn't so bad, I've always loved him, and the scene where the dead girl's crazy mother bites him and Scarpetta examines him was touching. and then FINALLY she and Benton get together, well, maybe, but not quite sure. Cornwell is far too talented for this, and I long for the days when I could not put the book down. I have not enjoyed her books since "The Last Precinct," and, should I ever buy another book, I will not spend the kind of money I spent on this one.
189 of 213 people found the following review helpful
My working hypothesis for the past several Kay Scarpetta Mysteries is that Patricia Cornwell does not really like the character she has created. If there are levels beyond adding insult to injury then Scarpetta gets to explore them. When it turned out that Benton Wesley was not dead that was a stunningly cruel low blow. Until Marino drops dead or one of the whackos Lucy keeps letting into her life kills her or gets her killed that represents the lowest moment of Scarpetta's life, which has been exploring the Marianas trench rather relentlessly. So when I picked up "Trace," the 13th (oh-oh) of the Scarpetta mysteries, my first thought is what wringers is our heroine going through this time?
We know that there are certain things we are going to get when Cornwell writes one of these novels and "Trace" provides them. First, there is going to be some political hack who is out to get Scarpetta who is not going to get his comeuppance. I gave up years ago on this every happening, although time and time again somebody goes gunning for Scarpetta unfairly without ever having to pay a price. This time it is Dr. Joel Marcus, the idiot who was eventually hired as the chief medical examiner of Virginia to replace our heroine. Apparently having created the best ME office in the continental United States they decided to find the least qualified person to run it. But by the time Marcus gets to gleefully accuse the great Kay Scarpetta of incompetence he is disappearing quickly in her review mirror. Add to this that going back to her old stomping grounds in Richmond is no where close to being a happy homecoming either.
Second, Lucy is once again involved with somebody with whom she should not be involved. For a smart girl it is amazing how many times Lucy enacts this pattern of self-destruction. Of course it must be rooted in the deep dark psychological turmoil created by her relationships with an inadequate mother, a perfectionist aunt, a volatile Dutch uncle, and all the horrible things that have happened to her in the previous dozen books. But since she has to be doing this on purpose, the big surprise is that this constant attempt to destroy her life is pretty much the only thing at which Lucy has ever failed.
Third, whatever cases Scarpetta, Lucy, Marino and Benton are working on they are related and the true target is not the poor dead person but one of them. They can call each other on the phone and repeatedly tell each other than they cannot say anything about the cases they are working on, but these people are just wasting precious time because somebody is always after one (or more) of them in the small, small world that Cornwell has created.
Of course, if they were not so consumed by their respective cases that are really just one big case then they would have to deal with the own interpersonal problems (Warning: rant coming). After all, if the love of your life pretends he is dead for several years and you were basically the only one of the good guys or bad guys that did not know it then there are a few things to talk over, in Aspen or elsewhere. But every since that big revelation Scarpetta has been studiously ignoring the elephant in the room.
The only refuge for both Scarpetta and the reader is when we get into the detailed forensics work that allowed Cornwell to make her reputation in this genre. Keep in mind that she had taken the "Quincy M.E." idea to the limit before television and popular culture caught up with the C.S.I. franchise. Given how all the characters are spinning their psychological wheels in these recent novels my suspicion is that Cornwell comes up with nice little trick of forensic medicine and then figures out how the aforementioned requisite elements are going to be sandwiches around the examinations of corpses and crime scenes.
For a while Cornwell's fans have come to the consensus that she is going through the motions with these recent Scarpetta novels. At least Scarpetta makes a meal again this time around, albeit in the book's first chapter. Given how good they were in the beginning their growing disappointment and outrage over these recent novels explains why so many of them are abandoning the series. However, I am still interested in the author's desire to heap as much grief on Scarpetta's life as possible. Even if these books are becoming one of literature's longest running sick jokes, there has to be a punch line at the end of all this strum und drang.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2004
I have read all of the Scarpetta series but Trace will be my last one. I was alternately bored and infuriated. I agree with other reviewers that too many questions were left up in the air. I never figured out why the killer killed Gilly - did I miss something? And what was the deal with the dog. Lots of questions unanswered. What really annoys me though is the total disfunction of each character. In Cornwell's world no one is ever happy. These characters now make you want to smack them and say "Quit whining and get a life!" Kay has become her own worst enemy as has Lucy and reading about their constant angst is just getting downright boring. They are their own worst enemies and I am beginning to think they deserve what they get.
Don't waste your time or money on this.
124 of 147 people found the following review helpful
Make no mistake - this is not the great writing and plotlines of the early Scarpetta books, but it's also not as bad and maudlin as the last two have been. Cornwell seems to at least be making an effort to push Kay Scarpetta back to where she came from and it mostly works in this newest book.
Like the last few books, there's far less Scarpetta than in the early series. The book is fairly evenly divided up into quarters between Lucy/Rudy, Marino, the bad guy and Scarpetta. Benton makes a handful of brief appearances, although his character continues to loom larger than the few words written about him would lead you to think.
Written in a slightly stilted third-person style with too many short and choppy sentences, Trace tells a convoluted story about the connections between a young teenager's death, an attempted assault and Scarpetta being summoned back to Richmond on a case that she (as usual) never gets the whole story about. If you've read past Cornwell books, you know the perpetrator is a sick puppy, you know Scarpetta is hip deep in weird political games, you know Marino will get into trouble because of his bad attitude and you know Lucy will manage to make the whole case about her. The more Cornwell explores the Lucy character, the more I dislike her and this entry in the series is no exception. She continues to be written as a selfish, headstrong, self-obsessed snot and her "woe is me" act about her sexual preference is wearing beyond thin. The character has gone out of control and it's no fun to read about her or care what mess of misery she'll land herself in next. Cornwell's increasing focus on Lucy makes me wonder if she's planning on phasing out Scarpetta to focus on her - I really hope not, because she's strictly become a one-note character.
There's a series of scenes between Marino and Scarpetta that on the surface seem a little sexually and emotionally gratuitous, but they're necessary for the plot development of the book here and their relationship development in any future books. Cornwell finally lays Marino's feelings for Scarpetta out there for the readers, even if the doctor herself remains mostly in the dark about them.
For the reviewer who thought Marino was made hunky: absolutely not. He's still the same obnoxious, alcoholic, racist, misogynist homophobe, although he's finally lost some weight, taken to wearing all black and shaving his head and has mostly quit smoking. If Cornwell hadn't taken care of the weight and heart health issue, the Marino character would have no place to go in future books except the morgue, since she had him near death from them in the past. Nowhere did I ever think Marino was a hunk and there's not a whisper that Scarpetta thinks so either; she comments that he's lost weight and that's all.
The writing is good if not great, the characters are pretty much where we left them at the end of the last book (I strongly recommend you read at least the last few books to figure out where the characters stand in this one) and the forensic details are stellar and interesting. The ending is, as always with Corwell, a little abrupt and pat, the takedown bloodless and unsatisfying and you (as always) never really get an idea that the main cast of characters has learned much from all the angst. I was at least satisfied at the direction of the Benton/Scarpetta relationship; it's the first time in a long time that I've read a Scarpetta book and not ended up smacking myself in the head.
If Cornwell picks up anything from the reviews about this book, I hope she finds a way to increase Scarpetta's appearances, go back to her first-person narrative and tone down Lucy or eliminate her altogether. If she can do that, then I finally have high hopes again for this series that I thought was deader than anything on Scarpetta's table.
The Scarpetta, Benton and Marino sections of the book rate a 5 to me, the Lucy, Rudy and Henri sections a 2, with the overall plot, forensic detail and redeeming of Scarpetta raising my score to a total of 4 stars.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2004
I think the best way to describe the last couple of books in the Scarpetta series is disjointed. It seems to me that Miss Cornwell has written herself into a corner with the whole Benton/Chandonne mess and is now trying to fix it. I was incredibly upset when Benton was killed off and the way it happened was fairly plausable. Then comes The Last Precinct and suddenly all these people you've never heard of are tied in to the whole Gault/Carrie thing. Give me a break. Then came the TERRIBLE "Blow Fly" which came across as a pathetic attempt to undo the mess she had caused, and that somehow changing the narrative (1st person to 3rd) would help. All that did is destroy the character development and make the plot hard to follow. With Trace, the mess gets slightly better, no Chandonnes in sight, but still that irritating 3rd person. But there is a faint glimmer of hope. Some of the old Scarpetta showed through. Having been a Cornwell fan since the beginning I will continue to read the Scarpetta novels until she is retired. Hopefully Miss Cornwell can get herself out of this phase she's in and go back to the enjoyable, suspenseful novels we've all come to know and enjoy.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2006
I am a HUGE Patricia Cornwell/Kay Scarpetta fan. I have every one of her books and couldn't wait to get to the next one each time. I even took to reading the books aloud to my husband whenever we traveled. It was interesting to read the other reviews and to realize I am not alone in my thoughts. I, too, have commented to my husband that I wonder if someone else is ghostwriting for her. I've also commented she must be getting paid by the word because the last several books (the worst was the one about the "werewolf) she repeats the same words and series of words over and over and over. (It is especially obvious when reading aloud.) If she used his full name once, she used it a thousand times. Often times three or four times in the same paragraph! Instead of "he" or "Chandonne," once in a while, she would say "Jean-Baptiste Chandonne" over and over and over until I wanted to scream. And it wasn't just his name. She just kept repeating the same words. Reminded me of kids in school who wrote a book report and it wasn't long enough so they went back in and just added a bunch of meaningless, repetitive, empty words to get the numbers up but added absolutey nothing to the content.
All but the last few of the books have been outstanding, superb, magnificent books, but these last few...something is terribly wrong. I don't know if Ms. Cornwell is sick and someone else is writing, I don't know if she is just worn out from producing so many outstanding works, I don't know what the situation is, but her last few books are far below her abilities. It is sad, to me, because I love her work.
Like the other reviewers, I, too, am tired of the characters. Their flaws have, in the past, been what I loved about them. They were so human. But now the flaws have become so exaggerated as to be tiresome. I feel like slapping them and saying "grow up and get over yourself." We all grow and change as we age, but Benton, Kay, Marino, and Lucy have just gotten grumpy and moody! Instead of becoming more interesting, they've just become irritating and childish. They just feel whiney to me. None of them like themselves or, lately, each other, so why should I like them?
Like several others have pointed out, the third person, back and forth style of this book only further distanced me from the characters...something I didn't need.
I feel "bad" criticizing Ms. Cornwell because I have been such a huge fan in the past. But now, the only reason I have continued reading is I bought all the books at once and have them already. I guess I keep hoping the old style will return. I miss it.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2004
Trace was a gigantic step up from Blowfly, but still lacks the oomph of earlier works. Things have not been the same since Scarpetta left Richmond--and I miss all those gourmet meals she used to cook.
I hate what's become of her relationship with Benton which seems to be all over the map.
And Lucy used to be a flesh and blood person, but has become some sort of cardbord cartoon Superwoman that I can't even relate to any more.
Maybe I'll just go back and start at the beginning and read the books when they really made you hungry for the next one, not hoping that it won't be a disappointment.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2006
I finished TRACE last night and am still wondering what happened. The book was going along at a slow pace and then just stopped. It ended, nothing more, no anticipation or happiness that the villain was captured, no emotional stirrings about Scarpetta and Benton, or Lucy, nothing.
Patricia Cornwell continues the life and times of Kay Scarpetta in TRACE. Scarpetta is a medical examiner who returns to her Richmond office five years after she's fired to consult on a case. Seems a 14-year-old girl, Gilly, has died and they cannot find a cause of death. Dr. Joel Marcus is Scarpetta's successor and is ugly - he has a vengeance for Scarpetta and part of the reason for him asking her to consult on the case is so he can lord over her and show her that this turf is no longer hers.
As Scarpetta returns to Richmond, we get to see Dr. Fielding who was once Scarpetta's right hand man in the autopsy wing. Instead of the vibrant man he was when she left, he has become someone much different. We're never given a reason to the changes in Fielding and it was very frustrating as it left me wondering why he stopped being a body builder and why he had such terrible allergies that his skin looked raw. And more importantly, why he has stopped being thorough on his cases. Instead of Cornwell giving us the answers, she has Fielding quitting and that's the end of him.
Marino continues to be dominant in this series, but changes in him are brushed over also. We aren't told why he has become a health nut, or if he's happy working for Lucy at The Last Precinct. We're told very little about what is going on with him, other than towards the end of the book when we're told a doctor informed him he had to quit smoking.
Benton has a few pages devoted to him but those scenes were so boring I shook my head. Benton was resurrected from the dead and instead of working on his failing relationship with Scarpetta, he's helping Lucy deprogram one of her agents who was brutally attacked.
And since I mentioned Lucy, she's back again but it's a strange side plot. Her friend is attacked in her home and there are so many threads left dangling at the end that I was actually confused. Lucy isn't talking to Scarpetta and again we're not told why. But she is talking to Marino and Benton, but that is also a mystery. And little is told about her business but a "training camp" is referred to and nothing more.
Cornwell could have used help with this outline and the result would have been much more entertaining. She jumps from scene to scene and the entire book doesn't flow; there's no meat to this story. This left more unanswered questions than necessary. Why did Dr. Joel Marcus have a garbage truck phobia? Why is Rudy frustrated with Lucy? Why is Benton helping Lucy instead of trying to get Scarpetta to love him again? Why is Marino slimming down, looking better, etc? And on and on...
With the use of a back story, the reader does understand a bit but not enough. All of a sudden, Marino catches the killer, but the footwork leading to this is not there and it just happens. It was so anticlimactic that the last 50 pages were difficult to read.
Overall, TRACE is not worth the time to peruse. I'd suggest picking up a copy at the local library instead of purchasing it if you must read it to continue the series. It was like being at a party with hundreds of guests and only getting a fleeting glimpse at the people you really want to visit. So be prepared for a let down. Someone tell Patricia Cornwell to return to what worked for when she wrote the previous books in this series!
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Although I liked "Blow Fly" more than most of Cornwell's readers did, I should have quit the series after the 12th novel. In this, "Trace", her 13th, I'm heartened that she tries to recapture some of the original magic by moving Kay Scarpetta, the forensics expert and medical examiner that is her centerpiece, back to Richmond, Virginia, from whence she came. But Cornwell proves again to me that her heart just isn't in it, and she's continuing to work in the series due to publishing commitments, money, or a combination of the two.
Although not her worst work (a left-handed compliment, if I've ever heard one...that particular honor goes to "Isle of Dogs"), "Trace" leaves the reader impatient and wishing he/she had not wasted their money.
There is nothing new here....Marino is still as ornery as ever, Lucy is in self-destruction mode with her latest relationship, Kay somehow is managing to keep on keeping on with Benton Wesley, who disappeared and left her thinking he was dead some books back. For whatever reason, she has not told him to take a flying leap...and he is still keeping secrets from her.
Cornwell actually creates a character named Edgar Allen Pogue, someone Kay knew in school, and adds Joel Marcus, Kay's successor at the Richmond Medical Examiner's Office, to the mix. Both characters are over the top in terms of their idiosyncracies, and both weigh the actual case, the murder of a 14 year old girl, down, immensely.
There is little new here, although Cornwell does do some apt description of the actual ME procedures and returns Kay to cooking, one of her few hobbies that actually makes her seem that she is still the lifelike character that Cornwell originally created.
This will be my last Cornwell read, and, like Blowfly, I'm planning to actually resell the hardcover, something I never do in the series I remain loyal to. Unfortunately, that means I'll be sticking someone else with this dud, so I'd better price it cheaply.
Kellerman and Grafton have been able to revive their series, each with mixed results, but it appears that Cornwell is no longer interested in bringing Scarpetta back to life.
I wish her well in whatever she decides to do when these pale shadows of her former writing stop selling.