Little Emily Steiner is dead. She left a North Carolina church meeting late one October afternoon and strolled along a lakeside path toward her house two miles away. Who met her on the path?
Who followed her home, kidnapped her from her bedroom, and left her body by the lake days later? Its a puzzling and terrifying crime, reminiscent of the work of serial killer Temple Gault, who has long eluded Dr. Kay Scarpetta and the FBIs Investigative Support Unit in Quantico, Virginia, where Scarpetta consults as a forensic pathologist. At the request of the North Carolina authorities, Scarpetta and her colleagues, Benton Wesley and Pete Marino, fly to the mountains near Asheville to assist.
They find a mother in mourning and an investigation in disarray. Its particularly frustrating to work a homicide after the fact. An inexperienced pathologist missed or misinterpreted some of the evidence, leaving Scarpetta with inconclusive medical and laboratory reports, and photographs that only raise questions.
What, for instance, is the strange mark on the childs body that causes Scarpetta to plead with a reluctant judge for an exhumation? What is the meaning of trace evidence from a plant not indigenous to the Carolinas? And where did the killer obtain the unique blaze-orange duct tape, with which he bound Emily and her mother?
Most puzzling of all is the question of when Emily died. She disappeared the night of October 1. Her nude body was found a week later.
Scarpettas obsession with time leads her to The Body Farm, a little-known research facility in Tennessee where, with the help of some grisly experiments, she might discover the answer. It is Scarpetta alone who can interpret the forensic hieroglyphics that eventually reveal a solution to the case as staggering as it is horrifying. Scarpetta not only must search for a killer, she must endeavor to help her niece Lucy, who is accused of espionage while interning at the FBIs highly classified Engineering and Research Fac Dr. Kay Scarpetta, consulting pathologist for the FBI Forensic Science Unit, must deal with the truly horrific as she seeks to understand the murder of an eleven-year-old girl in rural North Carolina.
The details remind her of a serial killer who has eluded the unit for years. What is required is a series of grisly experiments at a little known facility called the Body Farm. Scarpetta must re-interpret some badly botched evidence and interpret the forensic hieroglyphics to reveal an answer that is as stunning as it is horrifying.
Cornwell seems to get better and better.- -Los Angeles Times. 320pp.