Let me start by saying that Post Mortem remains within my all time top ten crime fiction books. Bought and read in 1992, I can even remember where I purchased it, as it marked the start of my focus on crime fiction reading. However, by the time we got to Blow Fly, I promised myself I’d avoid buying the hardbacks again. I went back on that promise with Trace; then after Trace I promised myself I wouldn’t buy another until it was out in paperback and I’d read others’ reviews of it first. Yet again, I went back on a promise to myself. But this time, with Predator, I have to admit that it’s the first time in absolutely ages that I have finished a Scarpetta novel without feeling disappointment to some degree.
Predator’s opening chapter is somewhat clumsy; I had to read parts of it more than once to take it all in and try and understand what was going on. But then, it starts to glide and it’s a real page turner, picking up speed until the bitter end, with a plot that proves difficult to anticipate. Did Cornwell achieve what she claimed at the Foyles event in London? When I finally finished the book, I had to agree that she had.
Yes, Scarpetta is less of a dominant character in Predator and we spend far more time in the lives of the other characters. Interestingly, Lucy her niece becomes far less superhuman and far more simply human, capable of making mistakes and being vulnerable like anyone else. Yes, Marino does indeed have a “makeover”, but I’m not sure I’d have chosen that word. Does being a certain age turn someone into a stranger? Well, yes, possibly. And yes, Benton is still the committed cerebral Benton exploring others’ minds and motivations, whilst still hoping to catch the odd five minutes with Scarpetta between cases. (These two can even communicate through mobile phones from different floors in the same house in order to stay in touch.)
Yes, crime and violence are there with all the horror and gore, but never gratuitously. A sense of loss and waste comes from reading description that does indeed fall short of being too much information. Yes, the novel does look at the why as well as the how and it is within the closing scenes that this is drawn to the fore. When I finally put the book down, I felt very sad.
It is impossible to outline the plot without giving away too much. The book opens with a number of cases under investigation, all weaving into a fabric of some sort by the end. But is it a fine Egyptian cotton or a knobbly tweed? Well, you’d have to read it to find out.
And finally, yes, I went back on a promise to myself yet again. And no, I was not sorry and neither was I disappointed. It’s the best Scarpetta novel in a long while for me. But should I say that really? These novels are moving more to an ensemble cast these days. Scarpetta is still the reliable and committed mother hen, and still cooking, but the chicks are growing in stature. I, for one, will be interested in what goes on next at the hen run…