Cruel and Unusual (Kay Scarpetta #4) by Patricia Cornwell (1993; Pocket, 2005, 416pp.)
Ronnie Joe Waddell, who’s been on death row for nearly a decade for a vicious murder, is executed, and Kay Scarpetta is called on to perform an autopsy on his body. At least, she thinks it’s his body. On the same day of Waddell’s execution, another murder occurs—this one eerily similar to the one committed nine years ago. When the killer strikes again—this time, murdering one of Scarpetta’s morgue assistants—Scarpetta quickly finds herself accused of committing the crime herself. Is it a copycat killer? Or has Waddell escaped his punishment? The plot is complex, and this works both for and against the book. The story sometimes so bizarre, so complex, that the reader can’t help but keep turning the pages. On the other hand, the plot is so convoluted that the reader may lose track of what’s going on. Although readers may agree that everything fits together in the end, they may still be feeling a little confused. In addition to this, Cornwell throws several plot elements at the reader that take the reader completely by surprise—and not in a good way. For example, Scarpetta is in the middle of the investigation when she suddenly recalls that a significant love interest has been killed in a terrorist attack several months before the story actually begins. This is certainly news to any reader who has read this book’s predecessor, All That Remains, which concludes with the love interest still very much alive. So much is happening between the books that it just doesn’t seem fair to the reader, not to mention sloppiness on the author’s part. Cornwell would have done better to give the love story subplot more attention in the story, since it later plays a vital role in Scarpetta’s exoneration. Overall, Cruel and Unusual works as a crime novel, but still leaves the reader somewhat dissatisfied at the end.
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