Blow Fly

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Blow Fly, Kay Scarpetta is drawn out of private practice in Florida when she is contacted by Jean-Baptiste Chandonne—the grotesque serial killer and Scarpetta nemesis nicknamed “the Wolfman.” While Chandonne is luring Scarpetta to the prison where he is due to be executed, young female cop and Scarpetta admirer Nic Robillard is investigating a series of serial killings that eventually lead back to the Chandonne family. Scarpetta and her friends and foes are eventually drawn to Louisiana, to be joined there by someone whom she had believed was out of her life forever.

The tone throughout Blow Fly is very dark, continuing a trend in Patricia Cornwell’s novels. The transition that Scarpetta has made in her professional life—from powerful Virginia State Medical Examiner living in a mansion to private consultant in a bland, downscale Florida town—is mirrored by the generally worsening prospects faced by the other main characters. Her niece Lucy is grimly obsessed, and dramatically violates her own moral code early in the novel. Detective Marino, always an unkempt physical wreck, falls even farther here, as does Benton Wesley, made miserable by his enforced separation from Scarpetta. And all that is to say nothing of the villains—a deformed murderer on a squalid death row, and a repulsive couple torturing hapless victims in a decaying shack surrounded by mosquito-infested swamp. Even Scarpetta’s admiring protege, Nic Robillard, is oppressed and frustrated throughout.

Cornwell’s strengths continue to be her deft treatment of the details of forensic investigation, while this book’s weakness is the unremitting melancholy that drains even the successfully concluded sub-plots of the catharsis that readers might expect. The title image sums up this dichotomy: blow flies function as forensic tools to reveal time and manner of death, but they also suggest the pervasive grimness of decay that marks this novel. Additionally, several of the most significant acts at the end of the book take place off stage, producing an oddly anti- climactic ending to a work with multiple parallel plotlines that seem bound to produce more fireworks than they finally do.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 3 (October 1, 2003): 275.

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 19 (October 1, 2003): 1201.

Library Journal 128, no. 19 (November 15, 2003): 96.

The New York Times Book Review, November 2, 2003, p. 27.

People 60, no. 17 (October 27, 2003): 50.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 40 (October 6, 2003): 61.