Predator (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; 2005) is one of the weakest books in the wildly popular Dr. Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell. The subplots are confusing and the ending is too unbelievable. Readers who have never read a Kay Scarpetta book are much better off reading one of the earlier novels like Cause of Death (1996.) Since the Scarpetta books are full of violence and gore, the squeamish should avoid the series altogether.
Many great murder mysteries can stand by themselves apart from the rest of the series. Only just enough of the backstory is given in order not to interfere with a novel’s narration. Unfortunately, Cornwell assumes that anyone picking up Predator will have read all thirteen of the previous books in the series. Even someone who has read two or three earlier books in the series will find Predator confusing.
Scarpetta herself takes a back seat to her eccentric and filthy rich niece. The daughter runs her own private FBI-like training school in Florida called the Institute. Her problems with the case, with her employees and with her personal life overshadow the book. Not enough of her backstory is given, making her more mysterious than discovering who the killer is.
Not that the reader is encouraged to learn anything about Lucy. She is written about coldly and dispassionately, as if Cornwell has come to detest this character. Lucy and most of the rest of the “good guys” have few redeeming qualities. It makes reading Predator a chore. The only likable character is a tarantula – only because tarantulas do not long, complicated personal histories. The tarantula is the only character that hasn’t slept around, curses like a sailor, stabbed anyone in the back, tortures total strangers or writes books about those that do.
The hallmark of truly great fiction is that it can be mistaken for fact. In order for this to occur, the author needs to describe a situation that could possibly happen in the real world. It takes a lot of research and writing skill to pull this off. Predator is not great fiction. The reader has a really hard time trying to suspend disbelief.
Without giving away the plot, the ending is completely unbelievable. The long slog through the book’s hundreds of pages, laden with medical research projects and tons of technical jargon makes a bad case for the plausibility of the ending.