Book Review

From Potter’s Field

From Potter’s Field

  • Author: Patricia Cornwell
  • Genre: Mystery/Suspense
  • Publication Date: August 2, 1995
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Series: Kay Scarpetta #6

CONTENT WARNING: murder, blood, mention of animal abuse, homophobia, drug use

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Christmas Eve in Central Park—Temple Brooks Gault stands over his latest victim, washing his bloody hands in the snow. Pleased with his new kill, he lifts the heavy steel door of an emergency exit and disappears into the fetid tunnels of the New York subway system.

In Richmond, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner of Virginia and consultant for the FBI, is in the midst of a late-night autopsy at the morgue when the call comes: Gault, the sadistic psychopath who has eluded capture for years, has struck again. For Scarpetta, her worst nightmare returns.

She and longtime FBI and police colleagues Benton Wesley and Captain Pete Marino fly to the eerie early-morning scene, where they immediately recognize Gault’s grisly handiwork. But no one seems to know his bald female victim, whose naked body has been propped up against a frozen fountain. It makes no sense that she apparently disrobed in the bitter cold without a struggle and walked barefoot over snow to her death.

While Scarpetta sorts through strange forensic evidence, including an uncommon tread pattern and extremely rare gold dental restorations, Gault kills it again. But the prey he ultimately seeks is Scarpetta, for it becomes increasingly apparent that he is as focused on her as she is on him. It may be possible that he kills to impress her, and that he’s trying to get at her through her young niece, Lucy, who is the brains behind CAIN, the worldwide FBI computer network.

Throughout what proves to be Scarpetta’s most frightening chase, she can almost sense the evil, electrical presence of her nemesis. But when she draws close, he slips back into the darkness, waiting for the time when at last they meet …

This is Scarpetta in rare form—tenacious and vulnerable; brilliant and consumed. From Potter’s Field is the best yet from a hugely gifted bestselling author.

Over several of the books in this series, Temple Brooks Gault is a supervillain that pops up but has always eluded justice. I was honestly hoping that he would finally get what was coming to him in this book, because he was such a horrible person and committed such heinous and devastating crimes. 

What makes this series so compelling isn’t the crimes or the investigating of them, although that is done really well. The best part of this series is getting to know Scarpetta and how she connects to the people around her, both in positive and negative ways. She works adjacent to law enforcement, for the most part in male-dominated arenas, and works hard to earn the respect that she deserves. She’s amazing towards so many of the people that she comes in contact with—her coworkers and subordinates, even when they don’t deserve it, her loved ones, and even the people that have been directly impacted by the crimes that she investigates. She consistently views the deceased with dignity and respect, devoting her life to speaking for them. But that weighs on her:

“My disposition was built upon many layers of pain and sadness that had started with my own when I was young. Then over the years, I had added. Every so often I got in moods that were dark, and I was in one now.”

We get to see Scarpetta show her vulnerable and sensitive side even more in this book, and it allows us to see her as a real person, rather than a far-removed fictional character. Everyone reaches a breaking point at various times in their lives, and the events in this book hit her hard. She’s afraid for the people she cares about most, and anyone who reads this series already knows that her niece, Lucy, is her soft spot. She views her more as a daughter than a niece, and has had a strong influence in her life. Scarpetta is already struggling with seeing Lucy grow up and start to be even more independent as she becomes an adult and dictates her own future. 

This is a series that I’ve grown to love even more over time, and I’m completely hooked. I already know that I’ll be checking out at least two more in this series on my next visit to the library. Between the compelling cases, my own investment in the characters, the masterful suspense throughout the stories, and the surprising plot twists, there’s no way I can put this series down.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 8

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