7.1.11

Patricia Cornwell's Predator


When Patricia Cornwell published the first book in her Kay Scarpetta series, little did she know the critical acclaim she would receive. Postmordem was the first novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, Macavity, and French Prix du Roman d’Aventure awards in a single year. Since then she has published 17 more Kay Scarpetta novels, all bestsellers. Regarded as the queen of forensic crime, Cornwell is the first American to win the Galaxy British Books Direct – Crime Thriller of the Year Award. She is a pioneer novelist in using autopsies and forensic evidence as focal points in mystery novels. The Times calls her a “shrewd pioneer of gruesome pathology.” Her work has been translated into 36 languages.

Possessing firsthand knowledge of both police work and forensics, Cornwell is eminently qualified to write this type of mystery. Before turning to novels, she worked as a technical writer and computer analyst for a medical examiner. Cornwell was also worked as a volunteer police officer and an investigative reporter. Not surprisingly, her books are praised for their expert depiction of forensic science and for their unflinching realism.

Predator, the 15th novel in the series and one of Cornwell’s most captivating mysteries, explores a number of cases at the same time. The novel immediately captures our attention as it rapidly moves from one subplot to the next. Surprising interconnections among the various narratives gradually emerge as the story progresses.

Kay Scarpetta is a forensic pathologist, not a detective. Cornwell, as Foreshaw maintains, “cannily spotted that there was a need for something other than policemen or private detectives in the crime novel, but can hardly have suspected that her combination of an ‘alternative profession’ and a single-minded, beleaguered heroine would prove quite so groundbreaking.”

Two of the most intriguing characters in Predator are Hog – a seriously deranged individual who kidnaps and tortures others – and Basil Jenrette – a serial killer and former police officer. Cornwell’s depiction of the minds of these psychopaths is masterful. We see the events of the novel firsthand through their eyes, and as Stasio points out, Cornwell brings these villains to “full, frightening life.”

Ironically, despite realistic depictions of forensic procedures and police work, the Kay Scarpetta novels have been criticized for unrealistic plots. The coincidences in Predator may seem contrived but the rapid pace of interlaced scenes keeps us guessing at their significance. The story works as a giant puzzle; the many unrelated pieces eventually fit together. The ending of the novel is truly unexpected.

Predator is filled with grisly scenes of torture. “I’m graphic about violence,” Cornwell admits. “I make it painful. But I do not cross a certain line” (Billen 2005). Predator is not for the faint of heart; it is a chilling story and gripping psychological thriller.

Billen, Andrew. “I’m Not Weird, Just Wired Differently.” The Australian. December 17, 2005.

Cornwell, Patricia. Predator. New York: Putnam & Sons, 2005.