Flesh and Blood marks the 22nd book in the Scarpetta anthology. Kay Scarpetta, now the chief medical examiner, is preparing for a tropical birthday vacation with her FBI profiler husband, Benton Wesley. The trip serves as a much needed break for the hard working couple who rarely get time to themselves. As they are enjoying what should be a relaxing morning at home, Kay notices seven pennies lining the wall of her garden. Each penny has been meticulously arranged, polished, and dated 1981. As she questions the meaning of the objects, Scarpetta is called to the scene of a murder that occurred nearby. She joins her longtime comrade, detective Pete Marino, at the investigation site. The victim, a music teacher who gained notoriety after being falsely accused of terrorism a few years earlier, was shot by a sniper while unloading groceries. Amidst the panic and confusion that surrounds the crime scene, one thing is certain. . . Scarpetta's vacation will have to wait.
The sniper rifle allowed the killer to remain distant from the scene, a fact that results in a disappointing lack of physical evidence. Autopsy results confirm the cause of death, but offer little in terms of identifying the killer. The bullet recovered from the victim's body presents more questions than answers. Formed from polished copper, the bullet is an unusual choice for sniper rifle ammunition. As Scarpetta thinks back to the pennies on her garden wall, she recalls a string of odd tweets from a user named Copperhead. When Marino informs her of two other sniper murders, both where copper traces were found at the scene, it becomes clear that Kay was meant to find those pennies. Someone is sending her a message. Someone is toying with her emotions. Someone is threatening her life.
I find my reaction to Flesh and Blood quite similar to the reaction I had to Cornwell's early novels. There are genuine thrills in this story that sent chills down my spine. The threat of the killer draws upon reality (the D.C. sniper comes to mind), allowing for the reader's imagination to come to conclusions far more terrifying than anything that is printed on the page. Seemingly unconnected points come together in shocking ways, providing the kind of satisfaction that mystery readers crave. Unfortunately, Scarpetta's advanced position at the medical examiners office makes her much more hands off that she was in the earlier novels. Rather than personally inspect the bodies, she comes to conclusions based upon the insight, or lack thereof, of the examiners working beneath her. This makes the investigation and revelations a bit flat. Further, the self absorption of many of the main characters makes them hard to root for. After a promising opening and several fantastic twists, Cornwell ends her novel with the whimper of a cliffhanger, a trend that many mystery series authors seem to be taking. For the sake of completion, I'll probably read the next Scarpetta novel, but the disappointing conclusion of this one leaves me wary of continuing the series beyond that.
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