Trace Review

Publication Date : September 2004


Dr. Kay Scarpetta should have been vacationing with her partner in Aspen now. But instead, she is currently back in Richmond, a city fraught with old memories. Here, she used to work as a chief in medical examination, heading work on evaluating dead bodies and determining their manner of deaths. But that was the past. As of now, she is just a familiar stranger to this town.

The only reason she comes back here this time is because a dr. Joel Marcus has called her. Dr. Marcus has revealed himself as her successor in OCME. And through the phone, he also informed her that he needed her experienced help on a case. A fourteen year old girl recently died at her home, whose manner of death is complicated. Her mom believes that she died from the flu. But the evidents are trying to tell a different story.


Trace is such a pretentious, and bad hardcover.

The novel insists on expounding unnecessary theories in painful details. It really goes to great lengths to describe medical methods and equipments in highly professional terms. Not that I am not grateful about it. But it truly comes across as excessive. In the process of it getting theoretical and academic, the book seems to forget that the biggest goal here is to provide a good story.

It’s real hard to finish Trace without having any confusion retained. Because in dichotomy with the unwarranted amount of data, the requisite materials that actually do matter for the narrative are agonizingly ignored. It’s almost as if Cornwell intentionally keeps things in secret. From the start, the book jumps right into a case, without bothering to properly introduce the characters, especially the leads. Now, this was my first reading of Patricia Cornwell’s books, but from what I’ve gathered, dr. Kay Scarpetta is supposedly one of Cornwell’s regular lead protagonists.  So I tried to understand that the lack of introduction is because these personas are already recurring names. But you see, even a serial writer normally dedicates one or two chapters to give a flash of what happened in the previous books. Because well, context does count!

Between laboriously trying to look expert, and the interminable but empty words, Trace becomes such a pretentious b-word. Say, its 100 first pages that are not telling anything at all. I mean, 100 pages is by no means few. So, to me, it seems like the book is putting out as many chapters and pages as possible, not because they serve a good purpose but because that thickness would defly make the book sell at a high price. It’s such an offensive accusation I’ve just made there, but until there’s a better explanation, I am just too furious to deny my hunch.

I believe Trace should fall under mystery category, but in it, suspense is non-existent, or non-detectable at the very least. Choosing to reveal the villain  right off the bat which otherwise would have been the epicenter of anticipation is really okay if you know what you’re doing. But if you don’t, like in Trace’s case, where there’s no merited follow-up chase to the identified culprit, it very much ruins any trail of thrill. No pun intended.

What’s more, like in many other poorly written stories, events are also looking entirely haphazard. The indispensable causal logic is probably somewhere out of the book. Here, the characters would just go around and around doing pointless actions which amount to literally nothing, it’s almost like they all are idly waiting for a development to come unannounced by its own volition. No pretext, never.

There’s so many effects that are intended but unsuccessfully executed. First is being the slew of bad jokes. And secondly, I also get the feeling that the characters are supposed to be cool or something. For instance, Kay is probably designed to be a singular person with heroic beat to her personality. But the book keeps telling instead of showing. And that really rips off any mood. I rather knew what I should feel instead of just feel the damn thing. And plus, those bunch of recollections are just as bad. Perhaps, they’re planned to improve the narrative, but sadly, they pan out to the opposite direction. In fact, all the reminiscing process do is stalling and disorienting the story.

Read it?

I mean, if you want to waste your time.

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1 Comment

  1. Now and then, I like reading really detailed negative reviews of books.

    This was one of them. Nice work. (And given Cornwell’s status, this seems to validate my decision to treat big-name authors with wariness).

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