Book Review: Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

In the 25th installment of this electrifying thriller series from Patricia Cornwell, chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta hunts those responsible for two wildly divergent and chilling murders.

BONUS: scroll to the bottom to find out how you can win a FREE copy of Autopsy!

With the holidays fast approaching, Patricia Cornwell has decided to bestow upon her legion of readers a truly memorable gift: the return of iconic forensic sleuth, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. While the Sherlock Award-winning character hasn’t been heard from since 2016’s Chaos, Cornwell went on to write two bestselling, NASA-inspired thrillers featuring Captain Calli Chase: 2019’s Quantum and its sequel, Spin (2020). This November, she resurrects Scarpetta with the series’ landmark twenty-fifth entry, Autopsy.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Scarpetta, who finds herself back in Virginia, where she has reclaimed the title of Chief Medical Examiner. She and her husband, Benton Wesley, a forensic psychologist with the Secret Service, now live in Old Town Alexandria (rather than Richmond). Scarpetta’s tech-savvy niece, Lucy Farinelli, resides in their guest property as she grapples with pandemic-related grief. Pete Marino, too, is back in town—and now married to Scarpetta’s mercurial sister (and Lucy’s mom), Dorothy. It’s a familiar quartet of characters who are given new life in fresh, if frustrating, circumstances.

Not only is the ME’s office burdened by the weight of neglect and allegations of corruption, but Scarpetta has inherited a secretary whose outright insubordination borders on workplace interference. Further, the remains of a woman whose body was found discarded near the railroad tracks, her throat cut and hands amputated, sit in the morgue’s cooler, awaiting identification. It’s a daunting responsibility, and one Scarpetta—who hires Marino as a consultant—must balance with her appointment to the highly classified Doomsday Commission, which specializes in cases of national security. 

As Scarpetta—our trusty narrator—inches ever closer to the truth about Jane Doe’s death (the key to which may lie in a penny found flattened on the rail), she is met with increasing amounts of resistance. In a seemingly unrelated event, Scarpetta is summoned to the White House’s Situation Room, where she must direct a virtual autopsy after two occupants of a top-secret research laboratory in outer space are found dead. The gravity of the situation—or lack thereof, in this case—results in one of the series’ most clever and compelling scenes to date; not only does Scarpetta break new ground, but she does so in the company of the President and Vice President.

Cornwell—who popularized forensics in entertainment before it was commonplace—continues to excel at depicting scientific and technological advancements that propel criminal investigations (and criminals, unfortunately). Despite the progressiveness of the work, Scarpetta’s condemnation of violence and her reverence for its victims remains one of the saga’s greatest and most grounding factors. Such steadfastness in the face of adversity has never been more necessary than it is now, given the unprecedented nature of the threats against humanity. Fortunately, Scarpetta remains resolute in her pursuit of justice, serving as a reminder that while the present is a time of great peril, the path forward also holds great promise.

Patricia Cornwell’s Autopsy revitalizes this venerable series and its beloved cast of characters while putting their beleaguered backstories to rest. As always, forensics is at the forefront—but it is balanced by the themes of family, friendship, and food that serve as unifying factors. Whether you’re revisiting the indomitable Scarpetta or meeting her for the very first time, this is an ideal (re)entry point. 


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  1. Ethan

    Great review, John! I was so thrilled to have Scarpetta return in such a great way.

  2. Bryan Sumner

    Just a great review! Just the thing to read in the early morning!)
    And thanks for the opportunity to participate in the raffle and try to win free copy of Autopsy!

  3. ¿Qué es un préstamo hipotecario?

    Con ver esto ya estoy deseando ver mas, muy buenas fotos y sin duda gran post!

  4. Mark

    I’ve been reading about Scarpetta for as long as I long as I can remember. This review makes it sound like it could be Ms. Cornwell’s best. No doubt I’ll be picking it up!

    Mark Groessl

  5. Denise A Kane

    Can’t wait to get my hands on another Scarpetta escapade.

  6. Barb Grogard

    Dr. Scapetta is one of my most favorite characters and I am so excited that she is BACK!!!

  7. Sally Schmidt

    Enjoyed the review. This sounds like the “back to basics” Kay Scrapetta. Can’t wait to read this one.

  8. Katherine H. Bennett

    I can’t wait to read her latest book! Cornwell’s books are always great.

  9. cherieoiser

    I am thrilled that Dr. Scarlett’s is back. I have read everyone of her adventures and can’t wait to read this one. I enjoy all of the characters in and their disfunctional and rather human relationships. They are a winning team in spite of and partially because of their disfunction. Thank you Ms. Cornwell.

  10. Patty J Hickman

    I’ve long followed Patricia Cornwell and can’t wait to wade into this next installment. Cornwell continues to swing for the fence and win.

  11. Karl Stenger

    I love her books.

  12. handyman in fresno

    Love the twist at the end of the story.

  13. Paula Culling

    What a wonderful Christmas surprise! I am very excited to catch up with these interesting characters. I love Patricia Cornwell.

  14. Christine Royer

    I am so looking forward to reading another Kay Scarlett’s novel. I have missed her!

  15. jack nelson

    Nice book

  16. m jackson

    This is the worst Scarpetta novel I’ve read, and I’ve read most of them. Kay is especially annoying, allowing herself to be bossed around by everyone around her, which unnecessarily complicates most of her life, especially investigations and is not the behavior of a competent medical examiner, much less the chief. Her behavior is often unprofessional, her decisions are usually absurd, and her focus is often accidental. It’s amazing that any crime is solved with her in charge.

  17. How To Keep Food Warm In Oven?

    With the holidays fast approaching, Patricia Cornwell has decided to bestow upon her legion of readers a truly memorable gift:

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