Patricia Cornwell’s “Red Mist”

9780399158025[1]Fans of crime fiction heavy on forensic science may like Red Mist, Patricia Cornwell’s nineteenth novel in the Kay Scarpetta series.

At the start of the novel, a chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta is driving to the Georgia Prison for Women, to visit an inmate at the inmate’s request. Kathleen Lawler is the mother of a psychopath who recently tried to kill Kay. Their conversation raises more questions than answers for Kay, and she ends up trying to solve three murders.

Readers who anticipate lots of action, based on this fact, will be disappointed. Surprisingly, this novel is slow paced and heavy on long dialogues and Kay Scarpetta’s inner thoughts. Readers who love meticulous scientific descriptions of the investigation will enjoy both the dialogues and Kay’s retrospection and introspection.

I usually like to cite characters that either enlighten me or make me think about certain issues.

Kathleen Lawler, for instance, blames everybody for her own crimes and the crimes committed by her daughter. She’s intelligent, educated, and well-read. Yet, instead of taking responsibility for her actions, she chooses to believe in the power of genetics. She says, “I’ve always wondered if my life would have turned out different if certain other things hadn’t happened. But maybe I’d be sitting right here anyway. Maybe God decided while my mama was pregnant with me. I’ve never been able to allow myself the success I’m capable of because it’s not in the cards for me to have it. I set myself for the failure every time. Failure is part of my DNA, what God decided for me and everyone who comes after me. Maybe I’m a victim of Almighty Himself.”

So she’s a victim, not a criminal. Don’t most all criminals think that way?

Dr. Scarpetta raises an interesting problem in our society: Everybody sues. “If a burglar injures himself while ransacking your house, he sues. Litigation is the new national industry and has become the inevitable aftermath of virtually any criminal act. First someone tries to rob, rape, or kill you. Or maybe they succeed. Then they sue you or your estate for good measure.”

Isn’t that right?

Another problem raised in the novel (through Lucy the computer guru) concerns the safety of our personal information, and how easy it is for “outsiders” to obtain it from us and thus make us vulnerable and even victims of identity theft. “Customer data is gold, and it’s sold constantly and at the speed of light. Every detail about what your surf for on the Web, where you travel, who you call or email, what prescription drugs you buy, what vaccinations you or your children get, your credit card and Social Security numbers, even your fingerprints and your iris scans because you gave your personal information to a privatized security screening service that has checkpoints at some airports and for a monthly bypass the long lines everybody else stands in. If you’re going to sell your business, whoever acquires it wants your customer data, and in many cases that’s all they want. Who are you, and how do you spend your money? Come spend it with us. And from there the data gets sold again and again and again. No guarantees that secure information doesn’t end up in the public domain.”

And that’s what I love about intelligent fiction: not only does it entertains, but it gives us valuable lessons.

Check out Patricia Cornwell‘s website–you may find it fascinating and certainly original.

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