Another Patricia Cornwell appears, and it's a pretty safe bet that At Risk will storm its way to the top of the best-selling charts. Cornwell has been at the top of the American crime writing tree for so long now that her position is virtually unassailable--even when she produces the odd misfire (which he has been known to do). Fortunately, At Risk can be counted among her successes, though its brevity may disappoint some.
The book is based on a recent story of the same name serialised in The New York Times, but those hoping for the return of Cornwell’s resourceful forensic specialist Dr Kay Scarpetta will have to wait a little longer, as Cornwell introduces a new central character in this book. Having inhabited the mind of a female protagonist for so long, the author has felt the need to move into very different territory with a charismatic male police investigator at the centre of the narrative. The book takes the reader from the cool climes of Cambridge, Massachusetts to the overbearing heat of Knoxville Tennessee. Win Garano is handed a tricky assignment: he is to investigate a murder case that is over two decades old. District Attorney Monique Lamont isn't concerned about the difficulties of the case, though--she simply wants results for personal reasons. Win is convinced that he has been saddled with a very low priority case, but quickly finds that there is much more to this twenty-year-old mystery than he thought. As some very dangerous secrets are uncovered, Win finds himself dealing with both the consequences of his investigation and the remarkable ambitiousness of Monique Lamont as he pursues a political grand prize. In the past, when Cornwell has moved away from the safe territory of the Kay Scarpetta novels, she has slightly alienated her dedicated fan base. But she is absolutely right to take chances like this in order to freshen her literary inspiration, and this fast-moving piece is a laudable effort, even if it comes in at a rather shortish page count. --Barry Forshaw