Book of the Dead (Kay Scarpetta Series #15)

Book of the Dead (Kay Scarpetta Series #15)

by Patricia Cornwell

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Dr. Kay Scarpetta is starting over with a unique private forensic pathology practice in Charleston, South Carolina. But in this thrilling #1 New York Times bestseller, her fresh start ushers in a string of murders more baffling—and terrifying—than any that have come before...

The Book of the Dead is the morgue log, the ledger in which all cases are entered by hand. For Kay Scarpetta, however, it is about to acquire a new meaning. 

A sixteen-year-old tennis star, fresh from a tournament win Charleston, is found nude and mutilated near Piazza Navona in Rome. The body of an abused young boy is dumped in a desolate marsh. A woman is ritualistically murdered in her multimillion-dollar beach home. Meanwhile, in New England, problems with a prominent patient at a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital begin to hint at interconnections among the deaths that are as hard to imagine as they are horrible.

Scarpetta has dealt with many brutal and unusual crimes before, but never has she seen a string of death like what she's facing now. Before she is through, that book of the dead will contain many names—and the pen may be poised to write her own...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425216255
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Series: Kay Scarpetta Series , #15
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 90,923
Product dimensions: 4.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Patricia Cornwell is considered one of the world's bestselling crime writers. Her intrepid medical examiner Kay Scarpetta first appeared on the scene in 1990 with Postmortem—the only novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity awards and the French Prix du Roman d'Aventure in a single year—and Cruel and Unusual, which won Britain's prestigious Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 1993. Dr. Kay Scarpetta herself won the 1999 Sherlock Award for the best detective created by an American author. Ms. Cornwell's work is translated into 36 languages across more than 120 countries.


Boston, MA and New York, NY

Date of Birth:

June 9, 1956

Place of Birth:

Miami, Florida


B.A. in English, Davidson College, 1979; King College

Read an Excerpt

Rome. Water splashing. A gray mosaic tile tub sunk deep into a terracotta floor.

Water pours slowly from an old brass spout, and darkness pours through a window. On the other side of old, wavy glass is the piazza, and the fountain, and the night.

She sits quietly in water, and the water is very cold, with melting ice cubes in it, and there is little in her eyes—nothing much there anymore. At first, her eyes were like hands reaching out to him, begging him to save her. Now her eyes are the bruised blue of dusk. Whatever was in them has almost left. Soon she will sleep.

“Here,” he says, handing her a tumbler that was handblown in Murano and now is filled with vodka.

He is fascinated by parts of her that have never seen the sun. They are pale like limestone, and he turns the spigot almost off, and the water is a trickle now, and he watches her rapid breathing and hears the chattering of her teeth. Her white breasts float beneath the surface of the water, delicate like white flowers. Her nipples, hard from the cold, are tight pink buds. Then he thinks of pencils. Of chewing off nubby pink erasers when he was in school, and telling his father and sometimes his mother that he didn’t need erasers because he didn’t make mistakes. When in truth, he liked to chew. He couldn’t help it, and that also was the truth.

“You’ll remember my name,” he says to her.

“I won’t,” she says. “I can forget it.” Chattering.

He knows why she says it: If she forgets his name, her destiny will be rethought like a bad battle plan.

“What is it?” he asks. “Tell me my name.”

“I don’t remember.” Crying, shaking.

“Say it,” he says, looking at her tan arms, pebbly with goose bumps, the blond hair on them erect, her young breasts and the darkness between her legs underwater.


“And the rest of it?”


“And you think that’s amusing,” he says, naked, sitting on the lid of the toilet.

She shakes her head vigorously.

Lying. She made fun of him when he told her his name. She laughed and said Rambo is make-believe, a movie name. He said it’s Swedish. She said he isn’t Swedish. He said the name is Swedish. Where did she think it came from? It’s a real name. “Right,” she said. “Like Rocky,” she said, laughing. “Look it up on the Internet,” he said. “It’s a real name,” he said, and he didn’t like that he had to explain his name. This was two days ago, and he didn’t hold it against her, but he was aware of it. He forgave her because despite what the world says, she suffers unbearably.

“Knowing my name will be an echo,” he says. “It makes no difference, not in the least. Just a sound already said.”

“I would never say it.” Panic.

Her lips and nails are blue, and she shivers uncontrollably. She stares. He tells her to drink more, and she doesn’t dare refuse him. The slightest act of insubordination, and she knows what happens. Even one small scream, and she knows what happens. He sits calmly on the lid of the toilet, his legs splayed so she can see his excitement, and fear it. She doesn’t beg anymore or tell him to have his way with her, if that’s the reason she’s his hostage. She doesn’t say this anymore because she knows what happens when she insults him and implies that if he had a way it would be with her. Meaning she wouldn’t give it willingly and want it.

“You realize I asked you nicely,” he says.

“I don’t know.” Teeth chattering.

“You do know. I asked you to thank me. That’s all I asked, and I was nice to you. I asked you nicely, then you had to do this,” he says. “You had to make me do this. You see”—he gets up and watches his nakedness in the mirror over the smooth marble sink—“your suffering makes me do this,” his nakedness in the mirror says. “And I don’t want to do this. So you’ve hurt me. Do you understand you’ve critically hurt me by making me do this?” his nakedness in the mirror says.

She says she understands, and her eyes scatter like flying shards of glass as he opens the toolbox, and her scattered gaze fixes on the box cutters and knives and fine-tooth saws. He lifts out a small bag of sand and sets it on the edge of the sink. He pulls out ampules of lavender glue and sets them down, too.

“I’ll do anything you want. Give you anything you want.” She has said this repeatedly.

He has ordered her not to say it again. But she just did.

His hands dip into the water, and the coldness of the water bites him, and he grabs her ankles and lifts her up. He holds her up by her cold, tan legs with their cold, white feet and feels her terror in her panicking muscles as he holds her cold ankles tight. He holds her a little longer than last time, and she struggles and flails and thrashes violently, cold water splashing loudly. He lets go. She gasps and coughs and makes strangling cries. She doesn’t complain. She’s learned not to complain—it took a while, but she’s learned it. She’s learned all of this is for her own good and is grateful for a sacrifice that will change his life—not hers, but his—in a way that isn’t good. Wasn’t good. Can never be good. She should be grateful for his gift.

He picks up the trash bag he filled with ice from the ice maker in the bar and pours the last of it in the tub and she looks at him, tears running down her face. Grief. The dark edges of it showing.

“We used to hang them from the ceiling over there,” he says. “Kick them in the sides of their knees, over and over. Over there. All of us coming into the small room and kicking the sides of their knees. It’s excruciatingly painful and, of course, crippling, and, of course, some of them died. That’s nothing compared to other things I saw over there. I didn’t work in that prison, you see. But I didn’t need to, because there was plenty of that type of behavior to go around. What people don’t understand is it wasn’t stupid to film any of it. To photograph it. It was inevitable. You have to. If you don’t, it’s as if it never happened. So people take pictures. They show them to others. It only takes one. One person to see it. Then the whole world does.”

She glances at the camera on the marble-top table against the stucco wall.

“They deserved it anyway, didn’t they?” he says. “They forced us to be something we weren’t, so whose fault was it? Not ours.”

She nods. She shivers, and her teeth chatter.

“I didn’t always participate,” he says. “I did watch. At first it was difficult, perhaps traumatic. I was against it, but the things they did to us. And because of what they did, we were forced to do things back, so it was their fault that they forced us, and I know you see that.”

She nods and cries and shakes.

“The roadside bombs. Kidnapping. Much more than you hear about,” he says. “You get used to it. Just like you’re getting used to the cold water, aren’t you?”

She isn’t used to it, only numb and on her way to hypothermia. By now her head pounds and her heart feels as if it will explode. He hands her the vodka, and she drinks.

“I’m going to open the window,” he says. “So you can hear Bernini’s fountain. I’ve heard it much of my life. The night’s perfect. You should see the stars.” He opens the window and looks at the night, the stars, the fountain of four rivers, and the piazza. Empty at this hour. “You won’t scream,” he says.

She shakes her head and her chest heaves and she shivers uncontrollably.

“You’re thinking about your friends. I know that. Certainly they’re thinking about you. That’s too bad. And they aren’t here. They aren’t anywhere to be seen.” He looks at the deserted piazza again and shrugs. “Why would they be here now? They’ve left. Long ago.”

Her nose runs and tears spill and she shakes. The energy in her eyes—it’s not what it was when he met her, and he resents her for ruining who she was to him. Earlier, much earlier, he spoke Italian to her because it changed him into the stranger he needed to be. Now he speaks English because it no longer makes a difference. She glances at his excitement. Her glances at his excitement bounce against it like a moth against a lamp. He feels her there. She fears what’s there. But not as much as she fears everything else—the water, the tools, the sand, the glue. She doesn’t comprehend the thick black belt coiled on the very old tile floor, and she should fear it most of all.

He picks it up and tells her it’s a primitive urge to beat people who can’t defend themselves. Why? She doesn’t answer. Why? She stares at him in terror, and the light in her eyes is dull but crazed, like a mirror shattering right in front of him. He tells her to stand, and she does, shakily, her knees almost collapsing. She stands in the frigid water and he turns off the spout. Her body reminds him of a bow with a taut string because she’s flexible and powerful. Water trickles down her skin as she stands before him.

“Turn away from me,” he says. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to beat you with the belt. I don’t do that.”

Water quietly laps in the tub as she turns away from him, facing old, cracked stucco and a closed shutter.

“Now I need you to kneel in the water,” he says. “And look at the wall. Don’t look at me.”

She kneels, facing the wall, and he picks up the belt and slides the end of it through the buckle.





Chapter 1



Ten days later. April 27, 2007. A Friday afternoon.

Inside the virtual-reality theater are twelve of Italy’s most powerful law enforcers and politicians, whose names, in the main, forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta can’t keep straight. The only non-Italians are herself and forensic psychologist Benton Wesley, both consultants for International Investigative Response (IIR), a special branch of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). The Italian government is in a very delicate position.

Nine days ago, American tennis star Drew Martin was murdered while on vacation, her nude, mutilated body found near Piazza Navona, in the heart of Rome’s historic district. The case is an international sensation, details about the sixteen-year-old’s life and death replayed nonstop on television, the crawls at the bottom of the screen doing just that—crawling by slowly and tenaciously, repeating the same details the anchors and experts are saying.

“So, Dr. Scarpetta, let’s clarify, because there seems to be much confusion. According to you, she was dead by two or three o’clock that afternoon,” says Captain Ottorino Poma, a medico legale in the Arma dei Carabinieri, the military police heading the investigation.

“That’s not according to me,” she says, her patience beginning to fray. “That’s according to you.”

He frowns in the low lighting. “I was so sure it was you, just minutes ago, talking about her stomach contents and alcohol level. And the fact they indicate she was dead within hours of when she was seen last by her friends.”

“I didn’t say she was dead by two or three o’clock. I believe it is you who continues to say that, Captain Poma.”

At a young age he already has a widespread reputation, and not an entirely good one. When Scarpetta first met him two years ago in the Hague at the ENFSI’s annual meeting, he was derisively dubbed the Designer Doctor and described as extraordinarily conceited and argumentative. He is handsome—magnificent, really—with a taste for beautiful women and dazzling clothes, and today he is wearing a uniform of midnight blue with broad red stripes and bright silver embellishments, and polished black leather boots. When he swept into the theater this morning, he was wearing a red-lined cape.

He sits directly in front of Scarpetta, front row center, and rarely takes his eyes off her. On his right is Benton Wesley, who is silent most of the time. Everyone is masked by stereoscopic glasses that are synchronized with the Crime Scene Analysis System, a brilliant innovation that has made the Polizia Scientifica Italiana’s Unità per l’Analisi del Crimine Violento the envy of law enforcement agencies worldwide.

“I suppose we need to go through this again so you completely understand my position,” Scarpetta says to Captain Poma, who now rests his chin on his hand as if he is having an intimate conversation with her over a glass of wine. “Had she been killed at two or three o’clock that afternoon, then when her body was found at approximately eight-thirty the following morning, she would have been dead at least seventeen hours. Her livor mortis, rigor mortis, and algor mortis are inconsistent with that.”

She uses a laser pointer to direct attention to the three-dimensional muddy construction site projected on the wall-size screen. It’s as if they are standing in the middle of the scene, staring at Drew Martin’s mauled, dead body and the litter and earthmoving equipment around it. The red dot of the laser moves along the left shoulder, the left buttock, the left leg and its bare foot. The right buttock is gone, as is a portion of her right thigh, as if she had been attacked by a shark.

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Book of the Dead (Kay Scarpetta Series #15) 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 477 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read all Cornwell's Scarpetta novels and with each one I found myself liking the books less and less. Now I quit! I don't think I can endure Cornwell's writing or the character,Kay Scarpetta. Scarpetta, with each novel, becomes more and more self-centered and arrogant. It is apparent in each novel that she thinks she is better than everyone else. She constantly puts Pete down because of his lack of education, his grammer, and his appearance. (When he does lose weight, it is weeks before she even mentions noticing it to him.) Eventually, the only character I was left liking was Pete, and with this novel she even makes him unlikable. As I read 'Book of the Dead,' I felt like I was reading a first draft because each chapter began with an incomplete sentence stating the location and time. There were many, many places in the book where Cromwell did this. She also kept repeating, word for word, from previous chapters and from her previous books as though she didn't have enough new material for this book, or just didn't care enough to come up with something new. I usually read her books in one or two days, but this one took me almost two weeks to finish. I started reading and became angry with the characters. The story was confusing and I got bored with. I would put the book away for a while, soometimes even days, then would try reading it again. I kept doing this for the duration of the book. When I finally finished it, I felt drained. I have never liked the abrupt endings to her books, and this one didn't stray from that. It seems like even Cornwell gets bored and just wants the story to end so she rushes through to get it over with.
cindyg More than 1 year ago
I was saddened by the problems Marino and Dr Scarpetta ran into. I feel like they should have ended up together, Marino has been there for the Dr and it seems in the storys as shes more snotty or to good for him and it makes it harder for me to like her as a character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We have read alot of her books but this is the last one, It was so bad that we could not finnish it.And have gotten rid of it. We will never buy another.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Patricia's novels up until this one. I started reading and discovered the most filthy language she's ever used. I started to throw it out, but decided to give it a chance. When she told of the attempted rape by Marino, of all people, that was it for me! She must have been having some type of repressed anger going on in her personal life. Go read Postmortam Patricia! Now there was a good book! Shame on you for this one! No more for me!
DeCe2 More than 1 year ago
Poorly conceived and executed. The author, usually one of my favorites, had a really bad book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I used to love reading these books early in this series when Kay Scarpetta solved murders using forensic science. I gave them up when they became more about the disfunctional charaters in Kay's life than solving murders. I had not read one in a few years so I thought I would give them another try. Big mistake! This book is more wierd psychology than forensic investigation. All of the same charaters are still around and more messed up than ever. I won't try again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was definitely not the best Cornwell has ever written. The blatant airing of her political point-of-view about Bush and the war was unnecessary and distracting. People who say she needs to reread her first Scarpetta novels are right on. I used to love all these characters and I found that I had no sympathy toward any of them, except possibly Marino. The relationships between all the main characters has become so disfunctional it takes away from the story and you can't help thinking they would be better off apart from each other as opposed to working as the team they are supposed to be. Kay used to be someone who was looked up to, a wiser women who was both intelligent and warm. Now she comes off as distant and a bit out of touch. I will continue to read PC's books, but am disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read every book in the Kay Scarpetta series. I fell in love with the characters on the first read....and grew to love them more with each book.....loved their vulnerabilty, their weakness, strengths, and demons. They each had such power and depth as individuals. This book is so disjointed and so technical...I'm a crime buff...but it seems more about the technology than the characters....and nothing feels connected. I don't feel like I'm reading about the characters I know. I'm 3/4 of the way through...and I will finish it....but the only person who's feeling I understand are Marinos. Lucy and Kay are closed up....and Benton.....have long wondered what he is about.....and this book makes it worse...are we supposed to dislike him? Love your writing...and I'm always waiting at the bookstore for your next book...think now I'll wait for some reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think Patricia Cornwell needs to go back and re-read her first book. I used to love her books. She was kind to Martino even though he drove her nuts and she loved her niece. She loved cooking for them. I miss the life they used to share.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first want to say that I had a hard time staying awake to read this one. I had to reread several pages over and over, and it took a long time to make it through. I love Pete Marino, and I HATED what she did to his character.I have read everthing this woman has written but my question is who wrote this book? I started Double Cross by Patterson, and finished it in a week.This book delivers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was a huge Cornwell fan for years, but her last four or five books have been disappointing. Her characters, especially Kay Scarpetta, have become caricatures, and not particularly likeable ones. Marino is the only likeable regular character in the series at this point. No one ever seems really dead, and the situations become more and more unreal. Cornwell needs to go back to where she was when she began this series to save it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You go Patricia, this is a great book! All my friends love it and they are buying it for their family members for Christmas. We just can't wait to see what Dr. Kay has going next. We like Lucy too, she is something else. What a wonderful writer you are. All we can say is you go Girl keep up the great work. I think what makes you such a good writer is that you live in the world you write about.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Great as usual.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to put down ...
CDianeK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't do it any more. Uncle.I pulled up to the library this afternoon, after muttering under my breath all the way there. It was my intention to renew this, as I was only on disc seven of the 11 disc set. Instead, I simply ejected the disc and returned the whole thing. God love the librarian, who simply smiled at me when I said "Here. Finished now."Seven discs in - better than halfway through, and all I'd heard about the crime WAS the crime, and the very preliminary investigation. The rest of the time? Was exposition, rambling talk about various medical (including mispronunciations, though that's not the author's fault) and psychiatric conditions, meaningless conversations that went absolutely nowhere between the characters, and just random naval gazing from our principles, whom I might moderately care for, and people I'd never heard of before, whom I definitively don't.Cornwell's style has turned into something that is completely annoying, although I didn't quite realize it until I listened to the previous entry, and it was exacerbated by this one. It's repetitive and run on: "Blahblahblah AND blahblahblah AND blahblahblah AND blahblahblah." How many conjunctions, never mind the same conjunction, can you put in one sentence? Also: (paraphrasing) "You are angry at the FBI, and I am not the FBI, and I have nothing to do with the FBI, so don't take your anger at the FBI out on me." I was so fatigued at the end of sentences like that one that I felt like I needed a nap. And nearly every sentence was like that.I loved the early entries of this series. But no more. I give.
bobcatnshn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book on sale and purchased it because I enjoy the Kathy Reichs series. I was very disappointed. There were huge gaps in the plot and character development and many words describing essentially irrelevant information. There were even numerous incomplete sentences. One particularly troubling aspect is we learned little of the killer and nothing as to his motive, etc. We are not even informed how one character learns information from another character. I can only assume her earlier books were better. Having read the book, I now know why there were so many hardback versions on sale. Back to Temperance Brennan!
delphimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am thoroughly enjoying the Kay Scarpetta series, and I like the change of venue. Kay, Lucy, Rose, and Pete have moved to Charleston, South Carolina where Kay and Lucy have opened their own investigative lab. Benton is still living in Massachusetts, but he has asked Kay to marry him. Pete has gotten out of control and has disappeared, and Rose is battling lung cancer. This story has many twists and turns as is usual in Cornwell's novels. Cornwell tries to delve into the psychological background of the killer, but Elizabeth George does a better job in relaying the killer's psychology.
debavp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yet again a step in the right direction. Since I read Predator I took a look at Cornwell's website and had a few of my suspicions confirmed. Again, there is a continuity factor with this one. She brings in a character from Predator into this book, but yet fails to wrap up the loose ends from Predator that would have made sense here. That's a nasty little habit I wish she'd break.And what the hell happened to Lucy's sidekick Rudy, was it? Just vanished from Trace, not a mention of him in Predator or Book of the Dead. As close as they were you'd think that it would be a decent story line.
JoAnnSmithAinsworth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very disappointing. I¿ve liked her earlier books, but this one was confusing as to the writing itself and where the plot was going. I struggled through looking for the excitement I expected from a Scarpetta novel, but couldn¿t find it. Even the ending didn¿t ring true.
mojomomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not my usual fare, but it was a good read even though I popped into the middle of the series and many of the characters are left in unresolved situations. I'll have to look for the sequel now! Perfect summer reading.
FMRox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Scarpetta teams with Lucy and Benton to solve a series of murders beginning with the death of a famous young tennis player. Benton and Scarpetta's relationship finally progresses. Marion commits an unthinkable act. Lucy discovers a medical problem. And, finally Cornwell starts focusing on the plot and less on her dreary characters.
macygma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read every Kay Scarpetta book through this one now and I'm not sure I liked "Book of the Dead" as well as the others. It disturbed me, in fact and I'm not sure that I like the trail the author is on with Dr Self and her family issues. A tennis pro at 16, Drew Martin was found in Rome, horribly disfigured and horribly dead. Somehow the link to not only Dr. Marilyn Self, Scarpetta, Marino and Benton and the others but also to some new characters is tenuous but still there. There is partial closure on some past plots and definitely a huge new issue revealed bit not solved. All in all, not my favorite but I shall continue on with the series for one more book.
becr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good, love the series
mondegreen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is nigh unreadable in places, so bogged down is it with forensic minutiae. Also, the narrative made me feel as if Cornwell is highlighting her own knowledge and constantly patting herself on the back for being so smart. Bleah. No more Cornwell for me! (This is only the fourth of hers that I've read, and it'll be the last.)
kanata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cornwell's last three books have deviated so much from her regular characters that she lost me as a dedicated reader. However, I am a glutton for punishment and thus picked up this title. I was mildly surprised that I actually didn't loathe this book though I believe that is because I had such a low expectation. Cornwell has strayed from her original brilliance of her characters and tales once again but seems to be at least attempting to get them back on track with this edition. If you can stand to forgive her from her previous errors it is an adequate way to spend some time. Will I read her again? Probably. (I'll read anything in print) Will I spend money on her books? No.