Review: All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell

I’d criticised Postmortem and Body of Evidence for the actual crime solving where all the things they did wouldn’t really amount to catching the murderer and All that Remains is no different though, strangely, even more infuriating. Full spoilers for this and future books follow.

Just like BoE, I somehow never read this book before, but that didn’t make it a better experience. A number of small mentions did feel familiar, such as the drama with the initialed cartridge, though maybe that’s a recurring plotpoint in a future Scarpetta book.

I struggled to connect with this book to the point where I nearly considered giving up on it entirely multiple times throughout. Postmortem had me gripped because it was a fast-paced story, BoE kept me hooked because of some random mystery drama, but this one dragged a lot. I think this is due to the passing of time both since the previous book, but also within the book itself.

It’s been around 3.5 years since the events in Postmortem and about 2.5-3 years since BoE, however, the characters haven’t really moved along with it. Marino and Scarpetta still have the same relationship and there’s no mention of any career or other developments other than perhaps Scarpetta playing tennis. The events of this book also encompass about half a year [mentions of August and end of January] which removes any sense of urgency to the solving of the crime and completely renders the attempts to find the killer as pointless. Hell, the FBI/Scarpetta might as well have gone on holidays for the entirety which would have been just as productive.

Benton’s behaviour was atrocious – Scarpetta and Marino have worked with the FBI task force for years yet he doesn’t share pertinent information and behaves like an arrogant teenager when brought up on it. Then, this book goes down exactly the same route as the previous ones where they’re deliberately planting fake information in the media in order to provoke the killer into action. Sure, doing that for one book in the series is cool and I did quite like it in Postmortem because the killer was on a schedule and the reporter was an intrinsic part of the story, however, here Cornwell doesn’t even properly elaborate as to what the FBI are planning which goes to show that even she doesn’t know how she wants to play it. Ultimately – again, just like the previous two books – the killer is only discovered by absolute chance as he revealed himself to Scarpetta and Abby in a tense scene I had a lot of hope for [Scarpetta deciding to use a payphone en route to call it in] and then seconds later realised the book wouldn’t deliver at all [the next paragraph says ‘weeks later’]. At times I felt like Scarpetta was in a constant haze of sleeping pills or memory altering drugs to explain her disinterest at everything. If the protagonist of a series isn’t even phoning it in properly, then what chance does the reader have?

A standard piece of writing advice that’s often given is to ‘show, don’t tell’ and this book would be the posterchild on how not to do it. There are numerous mentions of Scarpetta’s relationship with the largely absent Mark on how they’re passionate together and so on, but we don’t see that and have to rely on the maybe two sentences telling us about it. Likewise with their arguments and inevitable separation. On the flipside though, her relationship with Benton is meant to be strained and this comes across very well with the scenes at Benton’s house with Mark present being amongst the most uncomfortable ones I’ve ever read or listened to. Cornwell excels in writing good and believable dialogue and the book would have worked much better had there been fewer explanatory sections.

The personal relationship to Welsey continues to confuse me. I know they’ll get together, but he’s married in this book which was probably the most shocking development of all! What happens to his wife between now and him and Scarpetta getting together. A part of me thinks it won’t end well for her.

This was the first book in which Scarpetta was seen to cook. Up to this point we’d known her to be accomplished, but her cooking was a stunning display of arrogance:

When I got home, I began to work quickly, crushing fresh garlic into a bowl of red wine and olive oil. Though my mother had always admonished me about “ruining a good steak,” I was spoiled by my own culinary skills. Honestly, I made the best marinade in town, and no cut of meat could resist being improved by it.

The book also alludes to this Vietnam war practice which got me reading up trying to work out the logistics, however, it appears to be nothing more than an urban myth.

“When a particular outfit of American soldiers wanted to make a point after making a kill, they would leave an ace of spades on the body. In fact, a company that manufactures playing cards supplied this unit with boxes of the cards just for this purpose.”

As a small aside, in my BoE review I alluded that Benton would probably have a Mont Blanc pen which he does in this book. Maybe I should become an FBI profiler!

2/5 – Rating this was very hard. I want to like the series and the characters, but this case made no sense, the ‘investigating’ made no sense, the characters behaved off with each other and there wasn’t a pay off at the end. This is marked down for everything except the Benton/Mark/Scarpetta conversation and the scene with Mark/Scarpetta in the car which were excellent, but too little to counteract the frustrating murder ‘investigation’ and rest of the book. I’m really disappointed.

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