Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Depraved Scarpetta

I almost giggle while writing this.  But I must stress again (and again and again): chances of your liking this book is low if you aren’t faithful to the series.  Or, to be a little clearer, a dedicated fan to its leading character, Kay Scarpetta.  In all her re-found first-person glory, she controls every piece of her latest adventure in Depraved Heart.  And personally, given how much of a dedicated fan I am after surviving Cornwell’s third-person slumps (along with the hot mess of last year’s Flesh and Blood), I love Kay in control.  So despite another elusive and “cut-rate” ending, I was here for Depraved Heart.  In my equally troubled mindset (referring to Cornwell’s character), I found myself surrendering to Scarpetta's narrative once more.
Yet, as stated, this will most certainly not be everyone’s resounding experience with Depraved Heart.  In a matter-of-fact, I would bet money only 20% of those who’ve read the book are feeling the way I feel.  Perplexed.  Distraught.  But... pleasantly... content.  

Waiting on the next release?  You damn well BETCHA!
Now that I got all gush ‘n’ hush mess out of the way, let me tell you what the book is about.  After that I want to just bullet point a few of the crazies involved in Depraved Heart.  The good crazies (from a personal standpoint) and the bad crazies (from a technique/stylish standpoint).  Boy, oh boy.  This one may take all night.
So here’s the set up of book 23 in Patricia Cornwell’s popular (though debatable these days) Kay Scarpetta series…
But first!  Those who keep up with Scarpetta won’t look surprised to find her and her niece, Lucy, in trouble.  Again!  And it’s the same old drama.  Same old recipe.  Some damn-near omnipotent political or criminal force lurking in the shadows.  Calculating.  Studying.  Developing methods to psychologically torture and wreck our protagonist and her team.  At least until he or she can finally tap them with murder.  Generally, said foe is almost always singularly after Scarpetta’s wonder kid niece.  This, naturally but not-so, involves Scarpetta.  So that should tell you everything you may need to know.  But we’ll get into the smaller details anyway.

Depraved Heart opens up the latest formulaic Scarpetta adventure with our favorite medical examiner at a crime scene.  The scene involves a woman found dead in her Cambridge, Massachusetts house.  It appears the woman fell from a ladder while replacing a light bulb in her entrance way.  Her death appears accidental, but Scarpetta concludes otherwise.  So while the other investigators persist, she steps aside to answer a message on her phone.  The message is a video link, and she follows it to a surveillance film.  It appears the film took place years ago, and judging by the footage, was set up in Lucy’s private room during her FBI training days. 
Scarpetta can only frown in wonder and fear as she watches the footage play.
She suspects the video will feature Lucy's busy-body in and out of her room.  And for whatever reason, someone wants Scarpetta to see something in this activity.  So having already sensed the maliciousness behind the video, she continues watching.  But soon the video consists of Lucy’s ex-girlfriend (and local narcissistic psychopath) Carrie.  Carrie has assumed her role as “god” in this long-ago situation, by speaking mockingly into the camera while Lucy is absent.  Nonetheless, as the secret video rolls, Lucy returns to the irksome surprise of Carrie hanging out in her digs.  Irritated by Carrie's presence, the two find themselves in a heated argument.  Quickly, to Scarpetta, the situation becomes clear something much more is happening outside of a lovers' spat.  Some unveiling, within the argument between the couple, is sodden with legal repercussions.  (No spoilers.)  
Following the current details provided by the previous book, Flesh and Blood, it’s already established Carrie is a murderous ex-FBI agent on the loose.  She is very much APB.  So this footage landing in Scarpetta’s hands contains material which could put her niece in Carrie’s knot.  Additionally, how tempting and diabolical of Carrie to address the video to Scarpetta.  A woman who cannot bring the video to her FBI profiler husband, for risk of further entangling her niece.  Let alone her law enforcement partner, Pete Marino.  And if Lucy catches sight or word of this video, a whole level of problems could arise.  Especially considering as the video surfaces, the FBI are raiding Lucy's home for evidence related to her and Carrie.
Jeez.  Just summarizing the book makes me want to read it.  No.  Seriously.  It sounds dramatic, unhinged, crazy, and all of the above.  And for the most part it was.  Yet I loved the chaos, despite the book having little to no motion and awful pacing (I think everything took place in the span of 10-12 hours).  So with all the mounting climax-generating details, the unfolding of the book is cumbersome and sluggish.  It read like pause-think-stall-and-go.
But let’s bullet point some of what I believe you should keep in mind while reading Depraved Heart.  They’re personal observations involving the story and writing.
1.  As I said, the book is most certainly for those loyal to the series.  Readers like me who have survived the third-person madness that put the series in a slump.  This is not to say new readers may not find the book appealing.  But because of the oftentimes pontificating characters and stalling pace, I can only wonder will they find matters appealing without being familiar with the series' characters and background.
2.  Also as mentioned, the formula is still the same.  Those familiar with the series are probably tired of the same conspiratorial leaks against Scarpetta and crew.  So per usual, the suspense is mostly psychological and Cold War.  Scarpetta spends and extraordinary amount of time anticipating, meditating and re-hashing everything to death.  Fast-pace thriller this is not.  Quietly suspenseful?  I would say yes.
3.  The first 90 pages consist of Scarpetta chewing on branching implications involving the video.  A chunk of that is her standing over the corpse of the Massachusetts woman, while Marino peters back and forth.  Eventually the two get into the car to go to Lucy’s place.  As all car scenes with these two, they argue and speak in evasive tones.  I never understood why these characters hide everything from one another until the end.  
4.  A huge chunk of the story takes place at Lucy's.  Lots of conversations and contemplating.  Some new information from the previous book comes out.  However, the story moves as we're introduced to Lucy's lawyer and the agent heading the raid.  There are plenty of powerful female characters in this story.  I would even relate it to my own personal candy land–as I love empowered female characters.  Especially those who come across as an antagonistic bitch.  And what good is it to have a good-heart female protagonist without an antagonistic and shady female to trade words with?  The duality in character is present in Depraved Heart, though grey areas do lie with a few.  

Still, there is very little action as the FBI raids Lucy’s place.  I found myself frustrated here some, as I wished Scarpetta would just tell Lucy about the tape.  Then again, you kind of get the feeling there are never secrets with these characters.  Scarpetta designed to relay details to the reader is usually the last person to get in on these secrets.  (Side note: I love how Cornwell painted Lucy's family, particularly by including her adopted son.  More of that, please.  Stuff like that is good for Lucy's once overbearing character.)
5.  After Lucy's, Marino and Scarpetta return to the crime scene of the Massachusetts woman.  Another volley of stand-still conversations and ruminations take place–though I am always pleased at watching the two put their investigative skills at work.  Yet, again, hardly any noticeable movement in the over scheme of things.  The story moves ahead only by ponderous deductions and traded information.  However, I will say the story gets creepy in this block of story.  Cornwell’s ability to build atmosphere in the middle of the book left me with a cold feeling.  So even though it’s a sluggish read, I was still in the guessing game concerning Cornwell’s direction.  Bored out of my mind by the slow pacing?  Nope.  Not at all.
6.  There was a slight break for a little more action involving a possible bomb.  But it fell on Mariano and not Scarpetta.  Character-wise it makes sense.  As far as the story, I’m still on the fence about the whole thing.  Cornwell has the tendency to sometimes have a "spaghetti-tossing" way of constructing her crimes/mysteries.  This was the first scene I raised an eyebrow about its relevance to the story.  That, in itself, is a good thing.  Yet, after last year’s Flesh and Blood “food fight,” I wasn’t totally displaced.  I’d rather have a slow thriller than one relying on jumbled concepts that leave the story on a blank note.
7.  Lastly (but not so), one of the final scenarios was something out of a Thomas Harris book.  And I loved it.  But disappointed how there wasn’t more of this in the story.  Still, it reminded me of how much I love Scarpetta and her resourcefulness.  Which is why I enjoyed the book in its entirety.  No one can discredit her ability to think.  Her intelligence is what brought me to the series to begin with.
8.  The ending left me wondering why in the hell did I spend time reading this book.  Yep.  Despite all the fervor I have for Scareptta, I left Depraved Heart feeling as if the story wasn't even fully cooked.  So the book became another luncheon with aunt Scarpetta.  It cliff-hangs.  The Carrie arc continues.  Cornwell did the same thing during her Jean-Baptiste arc of books.  Those who know who this character is will understand the frustration.
That’s all I have for right now.  My feelings are mostly out on the table and that’s good enough for me.  I’ll continue to love this series, while praying Cornwell continues to hold a grip on her plots.  It really is interesting the difference in this book from last year’s.  I couldn’t even finish Flesh and Blood, because of the riotous amount of random running threads.  Depraved Heart took the quieter route–though filled with threads all the same.  I think what I’m trying to say is that I managed to follow Depraved Heart.  Though motionless, vague, and anticlimactic in its end.
But damnit.  That Scarpetta keeps me coming back!

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