Neil Collins's Reviews > At Risk

At Risk by Patricia Cornwell
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Jul 09, 09

Read in July, 2009

Patricia Cornwell was once one of my favorite authors, and I took any opportunity to purchase her books wherever I found them, certain that I would read them all, in order, over time. Sadly, she is no longer writing anywhere near the level she once had, and this is the last of her books I will ever purchase or read. In fact, I read it only because it was already on my shelf, and I hated to think I spent the money and never opened it.

At Risk is the first in Cornwell’s Winston Garano series (there are two so far). Best known for her Kay Scarpetta novels, and less for her Andy Brazil series, this new venture is, inarguably, her worst work ever. If you’ve read my review of her Isle of Dogs (Andy Brazil #3), then you know that is saying a lot!

As are her last several books, At Risk is written in a very distracting and unprofessional present tense. I found myself several times having to go back and reread passages that made no sense due to this annoyance. Imagine, if you will, trying to listen to a “Valley Girl” telling a story, and you’ll understand the feeling.

Story wise, At Risk is 212 page skeletal examination of the police work of Winston Garano, sometimes called Win, sometimes Geronimo. He’s a Detective with the Massachusetts State Police, assigned to the DA’s office in Boston. He’s a self-loathing wunderkind from the wrong part of Boston who wears top name fashions such as Hugo Boss and Prada, that he buys second hand at the thrift stores and constantly ruminates that he failed to get into Harvard like the rich kids.

He’s been on assignment at the National Forensics Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee, but his boss, the egomaniacal Monique Lamont has summoned him back early to investigate a case she is certain will land her the Governor’s office. As part of her new program which she calls “At Risk” she has decided that the best way to get additional funding for the new state forensics lab, as well as make her a shoe-in politically, is to put Win on a 20 year old cold case. A cold case that took place in another state. Knoxville, Tennessee, to be specific.

Never mind that a Massachusetts DA has no authority to investigate a case from out of state. Never mind that she has called Win BACK from Knoxville to tell him about the case. Never mind that any public official who so grossly misused their office and the public’s money like this would be stoned in the town square. Leave all reality and logic and common sense aside; this is still a terrible story told in the worst possible, hurried and assuming fashion.

At Risk reads like an outline for a story proposal, not a fully thought out manuscript. The characters are as thin as paper, and I often had to look back to see who Cornwell was talking about as she would refer to them by first name one moment and last name the next. You never get to actually care about any of them, though Monique Lamont comes close to being as detestable as she can in such a poor telling. I found Lamont annoying because she was a mean bitch, not because she was a well constructed antagonist. There is very little back story on any of them, and when a bit is tossed in here and there, it seems like another distraction; the flyer stuck under your windshield wiper that you forgot to remove before you began driving.

I am seriously saddened by the decline of Cornwell’s writing. Her first nine Scarpetta novels were excellent, deeply researched, and masterfully constructed. From Postmortem, right up to Black Notice, she wove intricate, albeit dark tales with vivid characters and detailed settings. After that, her writing style changed drastically and her stories fell apart in ever increasing chaos. From Mona Lisa to a kindergartener’s crayon drawings.

I still highly recommend her early work, but anything written after about 1999 will disappoint. Don’t bother with the Win Garano or the Andy Brazil books at all.
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Reading Progress

06/28/2009 page 12
4.15% "Not part of either her Kay Scarpetta or Andy Brazil series... We'll see how this one goes..."
07/02/2009 page 72
24.91% "So far... Thin plot, thin characters, fortunately a thin book, so I'll be able to finish it..."

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