Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Trial of 'The Body Farm' by Patricia Cornwell (Kay Scarpetta #5)

*This review will contain spoilers*

In the most exciting Kay Scarpetta novel so far, 'The Body Farm' kicks off in explosive fashion with the death of an eleven year old girl. What makes it worse? It appears she's a victim of Temple Brooks Gault, the serial killer who escaped at the end of 'Cruel and Unusual'.
Young Emily Steiner was abducted from her home in the middle of the night, and was found six days later beside the lake in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Black Mountain is not a town that is prepared to deal with homicides, so the fact that it could be linked to the wider work of a serial killer is absolutely horrifying to the residents. In another shocking twist, one of the investigators, Ferguson, ends up dead - seemingly through auto-erotic asphyxiation - and the officer who found him at home has an extremely serious heart attack. It's left down to the indomitable Kay Scarpetta, Pete Marino (now Captain), and profiler Benton Wesley to attempt to solve the case.
The focus starts off on Gault, obviously - the murder mirrors that of Eddie Heath, Gault's first victim, with excised flesh patches being found on the neck and inner thighs and a gunshot wound through the back of Emily's head. However, when Ferguson is found hanging, they find him wearing a pair of Emily's mother's panties and he has bagged flesh in his freezer - both rather incriminating pieces of evidence. Adding to this, it's rumoured that Emily's school janitor, Creed Lindsey, had feelings for Emily - he's a simple-minded fellow who attempted to be friends with the children by giving them sweets and becomes a suspect because he was suspected believed to be the perpetrator of a hit and run at a different school many years previously.
Meanwhile, Kay's niece, Lucy (who you will remember from previous installments in the series) is having a tough time - she's having a secret relationship with a woman and doesn't know how to tell anyone, it appears she broke into the lab at Quantico in the middle of the night so she is taken off of her internship with the FBI, and she crashes Kay's car after drinking too much at a meal. Kay doesn't want to believe Lucy did these things, despite the quickly mounting evidence against her, so she actives her super stealth investigating mode once more, and tries to get to the bottom of things. Kay is deeply suspicious of Carrie, Lucy's girlfriend, and she goes to visit her in the shop where she works - after their confrontation, Kay is certain she created a cast of Lucy's thumbprint to infiltrate the laboratory.
But despite this discovery, many things still don't add up for Kay. Once she investigates Lucy's car accident, she realises the back bumper of her Mercedes is covered in mint green paint - Carrie's car is red, so that takes her out of the equation. She meets Creek Lindsey and doesn't believe he could have harmed a fly - he's much too simple. But after learning that the Steiner's had another daughter who died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome before they moved to the area, she decides to go further into Emily's mother's background - she believes Denesa may be lying to her.
It turns out that there was no SIDS victim; she fabricated the existence of the other child. This makes Kay suspect that Denesa may be suffering from Munchausen's syndrome - a psychological disorder when the sufferer fakes emotional or physical trauma to get attention and sympathy from those surrounding her. Kay is convinced Denesa must have killed Emily herself, and when she realises that Denesa's car was the same colour as the one that drove Lucy off the road, she realised that the mother had actually been trying to kill her to stop her from discovering her dirty little secret. Kay goes round to the house to attempt to find proof - finding it in the bathtub in the basement, which had blood around the plug hole and a quarter that had marked Emily's skin after her death. Kay and Marino have been arguing, so he has been staying at Denesa's to get some space from her and to console the grieving mother, but as soon as Denesa knows Kay has caught her she attempts to murder Marino in one final showdown. Kay gets to the room and kills Denesa with a shotgun blast, and thankfully manages to save Marino's life.

Compared to the previous Scarpetta novels, this one was much more low key. Instead of having three or four murders, there were just two - yes, they were both equally confusing and shocking, but it made it much more effective to just be focusing on those two throughout the novel. Linking in a previous serial killer was a brilliant choice, and I loved the fact that the story had a brilliant pace set throughout it - there was no lull to introduce the characters or the plot, because it was the most direct continuation out of the series so far.
I also adored the fact that the murderer was a woman. The first four books all had male killers, and with women also committing heinous crimes it seemed about time that the pool of perpetrators widened a little bit. Yes, the mother killing her daughter was a harrowing inclusion, but it does happen - and more frequently than you would believe, as fillicide causes over 400 deaths each year in the USA and even more than that worldwide. It made it much more realistic than most of the previous novels, which included random killers picking random victims - yes, that does happen, but a murderer picking someone close to home is something that will emotionally affect a much greater fraction of the readers.
There was some very definite mirroring between the victims lives and our investigators lives in this novel. As Kay herself said, "It seems this is all about people loving people who don't love them back", and while it might have been a bit of a cliched theme it was pulled off tremendously. Emily Steiner loves a young boy called Wren, who invites her to meet him as a joke, breaking her little heart - Creek Lindsey has inappropriate feelings for Emily so tries to look after her, and is very jealous of her relationship with Wren. Almost the same thing is happening to Kay, Wesley and Marino. Despite the fact that Benton has been married since before 'Postmortem', he decides that this is the book in which he will embark on an illicit love affair with Kay, despite the fact that he knows Marino (his best friend!) has feelings for her. Kay knows that she could never love Marino, but doesn't want to hurt him, so completely ignores that the situation is going on - this, of course, hurts him even more. Benton makes no attempt to leave his wife, so he doesn't seem to love her or Kay that much, because he's hurting both of them.
This, combined with Lucy's story, means that the entire novel seems to be revolving around unrequited and inappropriate love. Lucy's in love with Carrie, and Carrie is straight and manipulating her feelings - unrequited love. Emily loves her mother, but her mother loves attention - unrequited love leading to inappropriate love. The same can be said for Lucy and her mother, Kay's sister Dorothy, but their story doesn't end as dramatically. You'd think it would get a bit preachy, but surprisingly it stays interesting because the investigations are still the focal point - this isn't a romance novel with a bit of crime, this is a crime novel that is dealing with people's lives.
The most interesting part of the novel for me was definitely The Body Farm itself. The Body Farm is a facility where scientists can research the effects of decomposition in different environments, with different weather and temperatures taken into consideration. This means that there are cadavers scattered around the area, set up in different ways, so that they can monitor and better find time of death based on decomposition. I had never heard of the concept before, and of course I was stunned to find out that it was a real thing that actually exists - it seems like such a strange idea, even if it is a brilliant way to examine something that really needs to be known about. It would have been good if The Body Farm had featured more heavily: consider the fact that the book is titled after it, then consider the fact that only ten or so pages actually take place inside the facility...
I will admit that the ending did seem a tad melodramatic. I was surprised Marino wasn't already dead, seeing as how none of the team had seen him for days and none of them were really too worried about that, so Kay running in and saving him at the last second just didn't seem feasible. The last three books have been foreshadowing his eventual demise, so I'm just thinking that it's going to happen in the next book now, instead.

'The Body Farm' is definitely the best Kay Scarpetta novel to date. It just feels like Patricia Cornwell finally got the perfect toss-up between investigation and character development, leading to a rich and well-explored plot and brilliant interactions between the characters. Kay is definitely starting to become more in control of her own existence - some of the facets of her personality that annoyed me in the earlier novels have been worn away, but the development is very natural so she still feels like the same person. I think the relationships between her and Benton and her and Marino will continue to become more dimensional and more layered, which cannot be a bad thing.
I loved the fact that the killer was a female, I loved the linking in of Temple Brooks Gault and I loved the fact that they were using a copycat killer - all three definitely added to the plot and the depth of the novel. If Patricia Cornwell can write another novel like this one, this series will just keep getting better. I feel as though she's crafted her writing into such a place that she doesn't need to use tricks to get attention - we don't need another book that takes place over nearly a year and includes ten murders, we just need a couple of characters, a tightly crafted plot and a two week time scale - much better.
I am interested to see what happens with Lucy's character. Kay seems to have finally accepted the fact that she can be a mother towards the girl despite not being her biological mother, so I'm hoping we're going to get some more interactions between them in the future. I'm also anticipating what Patricia can do with Lucy's character - being the first openly gay character in our core cast, and with this being the '90s, it could be good to see how she progressed with her, and how her attitude changes in future books.
I won't be too surprised if Benton and Kay continue their affair - there's a good opportunity for someone to find out and start blackmailing them, so that's likely to be used. I'd be happier if Benton just went ahead and left his wife like a decent person, instead of sneaking around behind her back. Despite the fact that it's morally wrong, I actually really enjoy their relationship and their interactions are brilliant - after the death of Mark, Kay really deserves someone who will care for her and who won't psychologically destroy her, and I think it might make her character even stronger if she had a perfectly stable home life.
I'm hoping Gault will pop up again - maybe not in the next book, but maybe in a couple books time - because it still feels as though there's unresolved business there, but other than that this was a pretty perfect specimen of a crime novel for me. 


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