(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As the earlier Body of Evidence (1991) presents a series of fractured relationships, The Body Farm presents a series of unrequited loves, continuing Cornwell's hesitant, suspicious portrayals of human interaction. Emily had a crush on a boy from her church, but he plays a cruel adolescent prank by getting her to go somewhere to meet him, then not showing up. Creed Lindsey, the janitor at her school, likewise has a crush on Emily despite their vastly different ages, and he becomes a suspect in her death as he is known to watch her. Lucy, Scarpetta's niece, now 21 and an intern at the FBI Academy while she finishes her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia, enters a lesbian affair with Carrie Grethen, a co-worker. (Cornwell here continues her sensitive treatment of homosexuality begun in Body of Evidence.) But that relationship too is destined for trouble as Carrie uses Lucy to get closer to the FBI computer and implicates the innocent Lucy in a computer raid. Happy romances are very unlikely in Cornwell's work, and in turn the characters seem always alone and vulnerable.

Romantic tension occurs as well among the series' main trio, a daring departure from earlier portrayals in which Scarpetta, Marino, and Wesley interacted as supportive and loyal coworkers. Marino is especially testy around Scarpetta, and Wesley cautions her, "Marino has feelings for you he can't handle, Kay. I think he always has." Scarpetta responds with frostiness, "They're best left unacknowledged." Thus Marino joins the novel's collection of unrequited lovers. Feeling unappreciated, he finds solace in the dangerous arms of Emily's mother. Meanwhile, Scarpetta and Wesley commence an affair, a tense relationship because not only are they close colleagues, but he is married. Cornwell quite deftly shows how the usually steely Scarpetta tries to maintain her emotional distance as she also admits that she loves Wesley. She does not want to talk to him about her feelings, yet she needs to deal with him. Wesley clearly wants to continue their romance. Cornwell takes risks in presenting these entanglements. The series up to this book has stressed the professionalism of these characters. Here she broaches the thorny problem of whether such friendships and close working relationships are possible among men and women without there being romantic feeling. Cornwell even allows Scarpetta to think, "I had always known our path one day would lead to this." The novel leaves the matter unresolved, leaves open the question how these three can manage to work together again.

As the affair between Scarpetta and Wesley progresses, Scarpetta thinks of the crimes they have investigated together, of how often the serial killers inflict sexual intercourse as an act of violence. Even during love-making, Scarpetta thinks of how knowledge of horrid violations of women has inhibited Wesley, as if the killers' "collective sins had cost him the right to enjoy a woman's body as he was enjoying mine." They decide to banish from their intercourse the words "devour" and "overpower" to emphasize that for them sex is not about dominance (as it so often is with the monsters they track). Scarpetta says pithily and suggestively, "The words of our new language came easily, and we had gotten fluent fast."

Just as the affair reveals Scarpctta's views of sex, the novel offers the fullest insight thus far into Scarpetta's psyche. Indeed, this may be the most ambitious book in the series in its full dissection of Scarpetta's world view.

In 1991, after publication of the first two Scarpetta books, Cornwell commented in The Writer about her style: "My writing is dark, filled with nightscapes and fear. Isolation and a sense of loss whisper throughout my prose like something perpetually stirring in the wind . . . My story is people who carry on in a world that is hard and cold and sharp around the edges." The first novel in the series opens with a pale visage that haunts Scarpetta in her dreams. Scarpetta has not been able to move beyond a vision of the world colored by her knowledge of violence. She is not cynical, but sad, burdened by foreboding. Images of evil, similar to the white face, continue to oppress her. In The Body Farm she has attained the height of her profession; for once unperturbed by politics, she has the regard of the FBI and the friendship of an influential senator. As she has never been more praised, she has also never been more depressed.

She sees others always with suspicion. Lucy complains that "it's inevitable in light of what you do professionally that you're going to think the worst about everyone." But Scarpetta tends to be right in her thinking. Disliking Carrie Grenthen from first meeting her, Scarpetta is unsurprised by Carrie's treachery. Dubious of Mrs. Steiner's story upon first hearing, Scarpetta confirms in her investigation that the victim's mother is a victimizer. These triumphs of insight do not satisfy Scarpetta because they only confirm her troubled and dismal world view. Killers often use duct tape, so often that the FBI maintains a bank of samples. Thus Scarpetta cannot see duct tape in a store without thinking of the nefarious uses killers have made of it.

These obsessions lead Scarpetta to her most poetic voice in the series. As the book opens, she awakes at Quantico: "Plumbing above and below me groaned, and one by one other rooms went bright as sharp tattoos from ranges I could not see riddled the dawn. I had...

(The entire section is 2242 words.)