Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell | A tense forensic thriller

If you’re a fan, you’ll be familiar with Dr Kay Scarpetta, the forensic medical examiner introduced by Patricia Cornwell in her novel, Postmortem in 1980. Since then, more than 20 of Cornwell’s novels have featured Scarpetta, making her one of fiction’s best known forensic investigators. Now, in Depraved Heart, Scarpetta is back, accompanied by her close colleague, the former homicide detective Pete Marino.

When Scarpetta is called to investigate the scene of a suspicious death in a house in Cambridge Massachusetts, she is interrupted by a text message that appears to come from her niece, the former FBI agent and computer whizz, Lucy Farinelli.

The text message contains a link to what appears to be a surveillance video of Lucy taken while she was a student some 20 years previously. It’s anonymous and vaguely threatening. Who sent it? For what motive? And how and why did it come from Lucy’s private number?

Then, before long, another video link follows and Scarpetta begins to be drawn into a web of suspicion and fear.

The plot, at times is confusing and the timeline somewhat frustrating—could so much really happen in the space of a single day?— but the storytelling in Depraved Heart is exciting built around characters that are believable, brilliant and flawed with well-developed, interwoven back stories.

And what’s really interesting is how Depraved Heart explores the concept of data fiction by showing how information can be manipulated and privacy and trust eroded in the digital age.

An enjoyable read and one that will set you thinking about the information you share online!

[Disclosure: Depraved Heart is published by Harper Collins. An ARC was made available by the publisher via Edelweiss for the purpose of this review]

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward — A novel of dark family secrets

Sarah Ward’s debut novel, In Bitter Chill, is set in Derbyshire in England’s Peak District. This is a cold, winter landscape that is well suited to crime fiction.  Ward captures it beautifully giving In Bitter Chill a strong sense of place.

The novel opens with a short prologue. A man and woman are together in Truscott Woods. The man is digging, “trying to break ground that his ancestors knew to leave well alone”. Close by lies a body wrapped in a winding sheet. Clearly, the body is about to be buried. But who and why?

Fast forward to Chapter 1 where Detective Inspector Francis Sadler receives news of a suicide. A body has been found in the nearby Wilton Hotel. The dead woman is Yvonne Jenkins. She is in her sixties and is known to the police. This is because her daughter, Sophie, disappeared on the way to school some thirty years earlier.

Sophie and another girl — Rachel Jones — went missing in January 1978. They had accepted a lift from a stranger. Although Rachel subsequently turned up, confused and barefoot, Sophie Jenkins was never found.

The investigation into girls’ disappearance lay fallow for several years. But, because Yvonne’s suicide occurred close to the anniversary of the 1978 abduction, the police decide to look for a link to the old case.

Meanwhile, when news of Yvonne’s suicide reaches Rachel it reopens old memories. So, Rachel sets out to find out what really happened all those years ago.

As Rachel and the police set about figuring out what happened, it becomes clear that three separate cases are linked. While one of these cases is from the past, two are from the present. It is clear that people are keeping secrets and that Rachel’s research skills could be the key to unlock the mystery.

Catalyst for change

Meanwhile, assisting DI Sadler in the investigation is DC Connie Childs.

“Whether she liked it or not, Connie was a catalyst for change and that was what this case, or cases, desperately needed.”

Connie, Sadler and DS Palmer are well drawn investigators and the interaction between the three is well written. It will be interesting to see if Sarah Ward returns to these characters in future novels. I, for one, would be interested in reading more.

In Bitter Chill would be a good choice for book clubs. Ancestry, inherited memory and place are all themes that could be discussed. The theme I’d most enjoy exploring is the different attitudes between 1970s and now. Family relationships are where these differences are most pronounced — illegitimacy, family breakdown, separation and divorce, and children’s lives.

In Bitter Chill is a very accomplished debut novel. Sarah Ward has created a good sense of place, a strong plot and believable characters. Better still,  she maintains suspense to the end.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward is published by Faber & Faber. [Disclosure: An Advance Review Copy (ARC) was provided by the publisher via Netgalley for the purpose of this review).

Swamp Bones : A Kathy Reichs Straight-To-Digital Story

The best-selling author Kathy Reichs has no shortage of fans. Yet, somehow despite enjoying forensic science in novels, I had never got round to reading her.  So when I got the opportunity to review Swamp Bones, I was curious to see what I would find.

In this straight-to-digital short story, Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, goes on holiday to the Florida Everglades National Park. She unexpectedly finds herself in the middle of an investigation when human bones turn up in the stomach a Burmese Python. I learned plenty about snakes and not a little about human bones in this short story. That said, t’s probably not a title I’d choose left to my own devices.

Published by Random House in September 2014 Swamp Bones also contains the first chapter of Kathy Reich’s new novel Bones Never Lie.

[Disclosure: An Advance Review Copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley.com].