Fresh from several New York Times best sellers, forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta must solve the riddle of a child's death by conducting a few unpleasant experiments at the ``body farm.''
Cornwell ( Body of Evidence ; All That Remains ) casts a wider, surer narrative net in the latest case set for her increasingly complex heroine, Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia. As an FBI consultant, Scarpetta investigates the North Carolina murder of 11-year-old Emily Steiner, whose mutilation suggests the M.O. of an escaped killer met previously in Cruel and Unusual. Forensic clues from the body's second autopsy prompt Scarpetta to request that certain experiments be made at the University of Tennessee's Decay Research Facility, known as the Body Farm. Meanwhile, she, Pete Marino of the Richmond, Va., police, and her new love interest, FBI Unit Chief Benton Wesley investigate the apparent suicide (from autoerotic asphyxiation) of the local FBI agent in charge of the case. Then, Scarpetta's computer-whiz niece Lucy, working at FBI headquarters at Quantico, is charged with violating security. During her travels between North Carolina and Virginia, Scarpetta worries about both the less-than-forthcoming Lucy and Marino, who becomes emotionally entangled with Emily's beautiful stricken mother. Results at the Body Farm lead her to a convincing, if abrupt, resolution. Deeper characterization and a more intricate plot mark this fifth in a consistently compelling series. 500,000 first printing; paperback rights to Berkley; audio rights to Simon & Schus ter; Literary Guild selection. (Oct.)