Unnatural Death is what?

Unnatural Death is a murder mystery investigated by medical examiner Kay Scarpetta, the star of a long series of novels. The title refers not only to to the fact that the story is about a murder investigation, but also to the discovery of an unidentified footprint which some believe was that of a bigfoot. You must read the novel to discover whether Patricia Cornwell believes such a creature exists.

The Plot of Unnatural Death

Kay investigates the death of a couple who are criminals with possible links to espionage, who had been camping in a forest near their farm among possible hazardous substances, where she suspects dangerous wild animals lurk, even before the discovery of the suspicious footprint. She has to work with various government agencies who are not always willing to share all they know with her.

The book deals with science and technology by the truckload: forensics, weaponry, surveillance, security, communications and more. Some readers will find this fascinating, whilst others may find there’s too much of it.

Pace

On the whole it is fast=paced, yet full of tension. The intensity eases when Kay is back in the office or sharing backstory. However, I found the subplot about office politics and relations with staff dragged a little around two thirds of the way, although they did remind me that human relationships can help or hinder even the most high-tech investigation. I personally wish we did not get so much about food. We get lots of detail every time anyone has so much as a snack

Characters

Many readers will be familiar with a host of characters who have appeared in earlier novels: Kay’s husband, her chief investigator, her sister, her niece and many of her colleagues. There are also an assortment of victims, suspects, police officers, government officials and journalists. Despite the multiplicity of individuals, the author succeeds in making each sufficiently different to make them interesting and to avoid (largely) the confusion that you might expect. She also allows key characters and relationships to develop whilst maintaining consistency with their previous appearances.

Setting

Never having been to Virginia, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the descriptions of Richmond, its suburbs or the surrounding countryside, but the writer either knows these very well or has an impressive imagination. She creates a real sense of fear when she takes us into a dense forest with its lake and abandoned mines. The fear follows Kay back into the city and several other places, reminding us that murder and violence occur in almost every conceivable location. Readers can also share Kay’s frustration and anger at the difficulties thrown in her way by so-called colleagues and certain journalists as well as the strain in her relationship with her husband and her niece due to their separate professional involvement in the case.

Overall

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and commend it to anyone who likes a mixture of mystery and thriller and who likes reading about technology, even if they don’t understand it!

This contrasts with ‘1989’ by Val McDermid, which I reviewed recently, but fans of this genre may well love both.