Kay Scarpetta, move over! There is a new kid in the forensics lab, and she is a sharp cookie indeed. Her name is Evelyn James, and she is the brainchild of freshman author Elizabeth Becka, herself a forensic specialist with the Cape Coral, Florida, police department. The first installment of what we hope will be a long and successful series is titled Trace Evidence. Set in Cleveland in the dead of winter, Trace Evidence opens with the discovery of a murdered girl, found by construction workers at the bottom of a bridge piling, her feet encased in concrete, her body preserved immaculately by the icy waters. Events take a turn for the (even more) horrific when a second body turns up, this time a young woman brutally strangled with a length of chain. Her bare feet show traces of dried concrete, a disturbing similarity to the bridge girl from the day before. When the body is turned over, Evelyn James lets out an involuntary gasp; the murdered girl is the daughter of the mayor of Cleveland, a man with whom Evelyn has a long and convoluted history. Though some crimes may be solved in the field, by virtue of dogged detective work, this one will have to be unraveled on the medical examiner's table, where the small miracles of science rule. Evelyn James is a congenial single mom (of a somewhat sullen and dramatic teenage daughter), unattached but not militantly so; in short, the sort of person you'd be happy to count among your friends. The minor characters are finely drawn, and the plot is original and briskly paced truly a first-rate debut.

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