I am a Patricia Cornwell virgin, so to speak. Narrated by her celebrated heroine Dr Kay Scarpetta, a Chief Medical Examiner and consulting pathologist, the story’s end makes evident how many false clues have been planted and left dangling. An all-consuming fire devastates media mogul Kenneth Spark’s Virginia farm and racing stables. The horses’ screams are like human screams. What little remains of an exquisite young woman lies in the master bathroom. She was one of Spark’s girlfriends. He is victim or killer. Initially Kay assumes the latter, though he loved those horses passionately. Unsurprisingly, her view of mankind throughout is melancholy. Elsewhere Carrie Grethen, thwarted in her psychopathic efforts to destroy Kay and those closest to her, escapes from a psychiatric hospital. Others now at risk – one of them doomed – are Kay’s dearly loved companion Benton, and her young niece Lucy, once Carrie’s lover. The author is most famed, I expect, for the plentiful pathological information and criminal lore she imparts. Until the suspenseful end, the reader, Joan Allen, formerly acclaimed on stage as Mrs Nixon, seems not to turn a hair as she describes gruesome mutilations and repulsive acts of violence.