When Dr. Kay Scarpetta first greeted readers in 1990's Postmortem, she was simply a hardworking medical examiner—brilliant, perhaps, but still a bureaucrat. No more. In recent books, Scarpetta has turned into a veritable action heroine. Where she once did most of her sleuthing within the chilly confines of her morgue, now she jets from Virginia to New York to Georgia in search of clues. Heck, at one point she even grabs a shotgun and, Clint Eastwood-like, chases a serial killer through the dark tunnels of New York City's subway system.
For all the theatrics, however, Cornwell hasn't lost her touch for serious suspense. This time, Scarpetta is once again tracking the sadistic killer Temple Brooks Gault, who she believes is responsible for the grisly Christmas Eve murder of a mysterious young woman in Central Park. But this time, Gault is tracking Scarpetta too, sending her teasing notes and using her name and American Express card. As a result the reader is caught up in a deliciously nerve-jangling game of cat and mouse—never really sure who's stalking whom, but happily going along on the hunt. (Scribner's, $24)