Patricia Cornwell is back with familiar friends and at her absolute best as a novelist. Though Cornwell has tried other literary pursuits, nothing succeeds like Dr. Kay Scarpetta and the cast of characters around her who make mystery reading pure pleasure.

Dr. Scarpetta is growing older as is everyone and her sometime lover, Benton Wesley, is grayer. Her niece Lucy has changed jobs after leaving the FBI and now works for the ATF. Her familiar sidekick, Peter Marino, is beefier, smokes heavily and sometimes ruffles Scarpetta's feathers. Generally, they mirror the human condition.

For the uninitiated, Dr. Kay Scarpetta is the chief medical examiner for the commonwealth of Virginia. She is also a consultant to the FBI, often called in on cases that are extraordinarily baffling. This time she has a real puzzler. A fire burns down the house and horse barn of a prominent and wealthy man while he is away, destroying some very fine horses. There is also a dead blonde in the bathroom of the main house. With an onslaught of mysterious fires and deaths, Dr. Scarpetta is increasingly bewildered but keeps her cool, even in the midst of a very personal tragedy. Evidently, an audacious and cunning killer is on the loose, but finding and unmasking him sets this mystery apart from the ordinary. Cornwell's mastery of suspense is notable, and Point of Origin is certainly no exception.

This is a superb choice for anyone's summer reading but the odds are that some will find it difficult to put down while the day turns to night, and night to early morning. This is, as the saying goes, a page-turner that will keep the reader utterly enthralled, wondering what will happen next.

Reviewed by Lloyd Armour.

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