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The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell

Familiar with what a body farm is due to reading Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan novels, I expected the title location to play a larger role in Cornwell's book. For example, perhaps the killer was using a body farm to murder and then hide his or her victims' remains. Instead, though, the farm was used to merely simulate the days following eleven year old Emily Steiner's death, a young girl who was shot in the head, sexually molested, and had pieces of her skin excised to remove bite marks, recalling one of the most haunting suspects Kay Scarpetta had ever crossed paths with during her career. Believing Temple Gault to have struck again, she, Benton Wesley, and Detective Marino head south into the mountains of North Carolina only to face an even more chilling nightmare and personal danger from a very unlikely source.

Just like the title of the book is somewhat of a misnomer, readers who approach The Body Farm looking for the traditional Cornwell procedural mystery will be surprised by the actual contents of the book – surprised yet probably not disappointed. During previous cases, Kay has often become quite personally involved with both the victims and the suspects, and this is certainly the case in Cornwell's fifth offering in this series. However, there is also a far greater focus on Kay's personal life as well: on her contentious relationship with her sister, on her unraveling partnership with Marino, on the maternal role she plays in her niece, Lucy's, life, and, perhaps most unexpectedly of all, the novel sees Doctor Scarpetta enter into a new romantic relationship as well. All this personal development means two things: one, the series' heroine becomes even more complicated, more real for readers, and, two, she also becomes more flawed, and, for a writer, character flaws are gold mines of possibilities. Perhaps The Body Farm wasn't Cornwell's most intriguing mystery to date, but it did more to further the series than any of the previous novels combined.

Four out of Five Stars

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