Let it be said that I almost gave up on Patricia Cornwell's latest novel, Trace, a mere 11 pages into the book, when I encountered the name of the man who would be the villain of the piece, Edgar Allan Pogue. (Anyone who has read Cornwell's unloved and widely maligned Southern Cross may recall the equally mal-monikered scoundrel, Butner Fluck.) God knows I am no stranger to a pun, but I was in no mood to see the tautly crafted Scarpetta novels camped up with ill-advised attempts at humor. I decided to give it another 11 pages. That became another 11, and another, and I have to confess, I got hooked. At the outset, pathologist Kay Scarpetta is summoned back to Richmond. It seems that a young girl has died and that the cause of death is a mystery: it may be natural, it may be homicide, but nobody in the Virginia Medical Examiner's office can say with certainty. The girl's father has some political clout, and he demands answers. Scarpetta is able to determine that the girl was murdered, but things take a turn for the weird when trace evidence links the killing to the death of a construction worker at the site of the old forensics building where Scarpetta once reigned supreme. Although perhaps not the best of the series (I am a big fan of Cornwell's earlier work), Trace is solid and tightly paced, which should appeal strongly to her legions of fans.

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