After being sorely missed in Hornet's Nest, the mess-tery Patricia Cornwell published last winter, fearless forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta is back on the case—and it's a doozy. Unfortunately, before Scarpetta and her creator hit their stride, you'll have to hack through a few dozen pages of the most wooden dialogue ever heard outside of an English-as-a-second-language class.
But enduring this eminently skimmable curtain-raiser is a small price to pay for the cunningly plotted thriller that follows. This time around, Scarpetta, the state of Virginia's chief medical examiner, begins to suspect that the torso of an elderly woman discovered in a landfill may not be the work of the serial butcher she has been hunting but that of a copycat killer with something much, much deadlier up his sleeve. And if sprinting to identify the alarming, poxlike pustules on the corpse weren't challenge enough, Scarpetta must also contend with a cyberstalker sending her gruesome crime-scene photos and threatening messages over the Internet. Medically propelled like the best of Cornwell's work, Unnatural Exposure will quickly have hypochondriacs squirming in their chairs. (Putnam, $25.95)