Picks and Pans Review: Trace

UPDATED 09/13/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/13/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Patricia Cornwell

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Cornwell gets her Hitchcock on in the 13th thriller featuring her popular protagonist Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta, a former medical examiner and current pathologist for hire, is pitted against childlike psycho Edgar Allan Pogue, who has seriously warped "mother" issues and a craving for human ashes. Cornwell is too crafty to rely solely on a Norman Bates-esque killer to generate creeps, so she also weaves in a medical mystery involving a healthy 14-year-old girl who dies in bed from no obvious causes. How the author ties the scary strands together is a slick, unsettling trick.

Cornwell can generate willies with subtle poetic turns: a building is "built of stone the hue of old blood." She also enjoys messing with the cluttered head of her once proud, now hurting heroine, who is sorting through a past riddled with insecurities. Recurring characters turn up to lend a hand, but considering how wickedly Cornwell can treat her fictional friends, you never know whose number is up.

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