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Cause of Death


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On New Year's Eve, a scuba diver, identified as investigative reporter Ted Eddings, is found dead 30 feet below the surface of the Elizabeth River. Was Eddings hunting for Civil War relics or fishing for a bigger story in the Inactive Naval Ship Yard? An anonymous phone call reporting the death draws Virginia medical examiner Kay Scarpetta into the case. The murder of a morgue assistant driving Scarpetta's car and the discovery of radioactive material on the passenger side puts Scarpetta, her niece Lucy, and colleagues Wesley Benton and Pete Morino on the trail of a right-wing militia group who eventually seize a nuclear power plant. After the disappointing From Potter's Field (LJ 8/95), Cornwell's seventh novel is an improvement, though it is not quite as good as her earlier books. Her plot is still contrived, but her characters are more fully developed. Perhaps one day Cornwell will devote a novel to the troubled, complicated Lucy. For popular fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/96.]‘Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"

First, the good news: the omni-competent Kay Scarpetta is back, along with her sidekicks, in a murder mystery that's tighter than her last escapade, From Potter's Field. Chief medical examiner for the state of Virginia and an FBI consultant, Kay finds ample opportunity to demonstrate her skills in the autopsy room and outside it, too: here, she also dives with a Navy SEAL rescue squad and, through her computer-genius niece Lucy, an FBI agent, takes an up-close-and-personal look at a robot operated via virtual reality. But there is bad news: the work lacks the extraordinary, can't-go-to-bed-til-you're-finished suspense of Cornwell's earlier novels, e.g. Cruel and Unusual. The killers here, members of a nihilistic, fascist cult who think their founder akin to God, are identified early on but never developed as characters. Their crimes, while heinous, don't baffle and tease the reader (or Kay) in the manner of the villain Temple Gault, who was dismissed in the last book. While Cornwell's authoritative presentation of forensic sleuthing, FBI procedures and high-tech crime-fighting compensates mightily for the overneat dovetailing of characters' paths and even the implausible role Kay plays in the climax, the hurried, almost slapdash pace of the climactic scenes is disappointing from so accomplished a writer. But even at less than her best, Cornwell remains a master of the genre, instilling in readers an appetite that only she can satisfy. One million first printing; $750,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild, Mystery Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selections. (July)

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