Depraved Heart is the twenty-third installment in Patricia Cornwell’s “Kay Scarpetta” series. It’s also the much anticipated follow up to Cornwell’s previous novel, Flesh and Blood, which left readers with a cliffhanger type ending. For the past year, readers have wondered about the fate of their favorite heroine, Kay Scarpetta. What did that “SNAP” mean? The consensus among fans about the ending of the book was mixed. Some readers were disappointed with the cliffhanger, saying that Cornwell built the story up only to let readers down. Others, including myself, liked the cliffhanger because it gave us time to think about what could possibly happen next in the next Scarpetta novel. Fast forward one year later to the release of Depraved Heart. Cornwell has been talking about this book for the last several months on social media, sometimes dropping subtle hints to her followers on Twitter and sharing her research with fans. The anticipation has been building. What was going to happen next?
I received an advanced reader’s copy of Depraved Heart in September. I had the pleasure of soaking up every word that Cornwell inked on paper. I had time to think about the book, really think about it, and collect my thoughts to write this critique. Before I begin, I feel it’s important to say that I have been a devoted reader of Cornwell for many years. The first book I ever read was The Body Farm and I was instantly hooked. Cornwell has written some superb books (From Potter’s Field, Point of Origin) and some unsavory ones (The Bone Bed and Dust come to mind.) Cornwell’s writing has really changed over the years. As with any artist, I would expect this, for that’s how a person tends to grow and evolve. A lot of readers really enjoyed the earlier books in the series, and not so much the recent ones, including myself. However, year after year, I continue to buy Cornwell’s latest installment, hoping for a book to absolutely blow me away. I got my wish last year with Flesh and Blood, when she brought back to the series one of the best antagonists ever created in fiction. Because I loved that book so much, I had huge hopes for Depraved Heart. I couldn’t wait to see what happened after that “SNAP” and how Lucy was going to deal with her conflicting emotions and feelings for a (possible) serial killer who also happened to be her first lover. Unfortunately, the answers I was looking for (and hoping for) both fell flat in Depraved Heart.
The book picks up two months after the ending of Flesh and Blood. Scarpetta is working a suspicious death when she receives a video link from Lucy on her phone. The video is of Lucy’s dorm room from Quantico, when she was interning at the FBI, approximately seventeen years ago. Scarpetta has a sinking feeling that she knows who is responsible for sending the video and she automatically fears for Lucy’s safety. In a very unlike Scarpetta fashion, she finishes what she has to do at the scene as quickly as possible and this causes Marino concern. Scarpetta hasn’t been the same since she was attacked at the bottom of the sea two months ago and everyone is worried about her. Benton goes so far to suggest that she may even be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome (when one identifies with their aggressor; look it up, it’s interesting.) Scarpetta and Marino leave the scene and rush out to Concord, where Lucy lives in her larger than life estate. Scarpetta feels she can’t tell Marino about the video she received and he’s very confused by her odd behavior. On their way to Lucy’s, they notice a helicopter practically following them, as Scarpetta grows more paranoid and concerned by each passing minute. When they finally arrive at Lucy’s, they discover the reason Lucy isn’t answering her phone is because her estate has been raided by the FBI. She says they are looking for something that she doesn’t have, confiscating all of her weapons and any possible “evidence” they may find. Scarpetta receives more videos. And where the hell is Benton? Scarpetta is trapped in her mind about who she can trust. What is really happening and what is fiction? And, essentially, this is the entire scope of Depraved Heart. It can be broken down into a few different scenes:
Scarpetta and Marino working a suspicious death scene; Scarpetta receives disturbing videos that warrant questioning Lucy’s safety
Scarpetta and Marino arrive at Lucy’s estate
Scarpetta and Lucy discuss why the FBI is possibly raiding her house, who might be behind it, and what it all means (where is that dive cam video and/or dive mask?)
Scarpetta and Marino return to the suspicious death scene; more videos; Benton arrives and tells Scarpetta what he can (a man with many secrets)
Climactic ending in the underground cellar aka House of Horrors (please!); everyone gathers at Scarpetta’s house afterwards for dinner.
Yes, yes…there is a lot more in between, but this is essentially the storyline. After all, the entire book takes place within a twenty-four hour time frame (a personal annoyance of mine) and it primarily focuses on Scarpetta being paranoid and worried for Lucy. The videos that Scarpetta continues to receive, which she believes are from Carrie Grethen, play a huge role in the story. However, it is also these videos that end up absolutely destroying the entire storyline because they don’t make any sense. If you’re a long time reader of the series, you’re bound to understand.
Earlier I mentioned that the first book that I ever read was The Body Farm. If you haven’t read that book, you wouldn’t pick up on all of the annoyances and discrepancies that these videos bring to light. In fact, you might also be absolutely in love with Depraved Heart and I wouldn’t blame you for that. The storyline is very good, very fast paced and very intense. However, if you are familiar with the backstory of Lucy and Carrie and the way that Carrie is presented in The Body Farm, where she is first introduced, you will feel my pain. Even From Potter’s Field, Unnatural Exposure and Point of Origin describe Carrie (and her relationship with Lucy) very differently. Not sure what I’m talking about? Please, allow me to explain by a few book by book comparisons.
(I will also take a moment now to state that I realize these books are fiction. These characters are not real. There are bound to be some variances. However, these variances are rather extreme.)
In The Body Farm, the year is 1994 or 1995; Lucy is twenty-one years old, interning at the FBI, and working on the Computer Artificial Intelligence Network, CAIN. When Scarpetta meets Carrie Grethen, she’s described as tall, with long dark hair, possibly in her mid-thirties, with a patrician beauty both remarkable and rare. In the Depraved Heart videos, the year is 1997; Lucy is nineteen years old, interning at the FBI; Carrie is described as pale, opaque, with hair that is in a buzz cut and platinum blonde. Scarpetta also says that Carrie was in her “mid-twenties” at the time. I will give her a break on Carrie’s age, since apparently she looks very youthful (copper, apparently, is a wonderful thing.) Lucy’s age, however, has been all over the place throughout the series. However, I find it somewhat annoying that in Flesh and Blood, we learned that Lucy was born in 1981. That would make her 16 in 1997. Oh, but what’s a little mistake with math? Also, when she described Carrie in the videos, I automatically thought of her and how she looked in From Potter’s Field. In that book, Carrie was described as having short, bleached hair in that book to match that of her killing partner, Temple Gault.
In The Body Farm, Scarpetta and Benton are colleagues and Benton is still married to Connie. During a business trip, they have an affair. Their relationship has just begun. In the Depraved Heart videos, Carrie refers to Benton as practically “Lucy’s uncle.” Scarpetta talks about a suit she’s wearing out on a picnic bench with Lucy in 1995 that was a gift from Benton. I think Connie would be a little upset if she knew Benton bought Scarpetta such a gift, oh, and they were having an affair. In From Potter’s Field, we learn that Lucy and Carrie actually met over the internet and “sort of” knew each other before they met at Quantico. It was during this time that Carrie had teamed up with Temple Gault and she helped him commit his crimes. Carrie never killed anyone and was actually quite submissive in this book. Yet, in the Depraved Heart videos it’s alluded to that Carrie had begun spying on Scarpetta and Lucy in 1995. I still can’t figure out the point of that one.
In The Body Farm, at the very end of the book, Lucy and Scarpetta are walking cobblestone streeets and Lucy confesses that she still loves Carrie, despite the fact that Carrie used her. In the Depraved Heart videos, we're supposed to believe that it was Lucy that broke up with Carrie because she thought Carrie was having an affair with Erin? Really? Carrie left Lucy after she was dismissed from ERF and she left Lucy with a broken heart. Lucy did not break up with Carrie.
Now let’s just ahead jump a little bit. In Unnatural Exposure, the year was 1997. Carrie was locked up in Kirby at the time and her trial was set for the Spring. In Point of Origin, the year is 1998. Carrie escaped from Kirby and met up with a new partner, Newton Joyce. It was said many times throughout the book that Carrie didn’t kill anyone and that she “liked to watch.” It was in this book that Carrie’s “death” occurred. Also, I can’t help but wonder how Carrie’s medical condition was treated during her five years at Kirby? Yup, there’s that, too. (Sigh)
Based on all of the previous novels and the way that Cornwell described the relationship between Lucy and Carrie, I was very surprised at the way she portrayed it in these videos and I also found it very unbelievable. Yes, Lucy was younger and immature and Carrie was indeed her first love. I agree with all of that because it explains Lucy’s constant obsession with Carrie in so many books that followed. When Carrie returned in Flesh and Blood, it was absolutely monumental. Portraying her as a female sniper was brilliant and led me to believe she was either a spy or even a rouge agent. And Lucy’s obsession with Carrie was spot on! Cornwell wrote that “Lucy still had feelings, old powerful ones…” and yes, she did. And she still does. Towards the end of Flesh and Blood, it seemed like Lucy and her partner Janet were on the outs because of Lucy’s feelings for Carrie. However, all of that seemed to go away and be wrapped up like a tidy little bow in Depraved Heart. Talk about disappointing! Cornwell could have gone so many different directions with that and she chose the easy road. In the earlier books, I really liked Janet and Lucy together, but now? There is nothing there, no chemistry, no sizzle. Janet seems too reserved for Lucy and now inserting this kid Desi into the picture? Ugh! I feel like Cornwell is forcing a relationship between Janet and Lucy that just isn’t there. Maybe she waited entirely too long to bring Janet back; maybe it’s bringing a kid into the family that’s making it seem so unbelievable. Whatever it is, I’m just not feeling it. I know so many readers want to see Lucy “happy,” but what does that even mean? Lucy was entirely more dynamic without Janet. Anyhow, I think Lucy still has way too many unresolved feelings for Carrie.
And just what do I really think about Carrie Grethen? Well, that’s actually a bit comical. One of my favorite chapters in Depraved Heart was when Carrie was telling her story to the camera. I loved learning about her childhood, her past, her medical condition (I’m probably the only one who feels sorry for her.) I absolutely love her brilliance, the way she talks, her dry sense of humor. She’s very charming and apparently very good at getting what she wants. However, I found her a bit…exaggerated in this book. Yes, female serial killers are very rare, but even more rare (and probably non-existent) is a female serial killer with an MO that’s all over the map. Carrie just randomly decides how to kill someone? One day it’s a rifle, the next day it’s bashing someone’s head against a rock? A bit of a stretch, but hell, this is fiction, so I will let it be that. Carrie has turned into this invisible force who manages to slip through the cracks and not leave a trace of evidence behind. So, that begs the question. At the end of Depraved Heart, when Scarpetta and Benton find Troy in the cellar, Scarpetta sees blood hanging in pint bags. She says that Carrie has been drawing her own blood. The question is this: will the blood finally prove that Carrie is alive? If that happens, I may have to hang my hat. There is no way that Carrie would set everything up that meticulously only to leave her own blood behind. Perhaps she wants Scarpetta to think it, but she’s entirely too smart for that. The only thing Scarpetta will find is what Carrie wants her to find. She’s that good and that’s why she’s seriously the best antagonist in the realm of fiction.
In truth, I really wanted to love Depraved Heart. I spent the last year looking forward to it and was pretty disappointed with the result. My disappointment doesn’t come from it being a bad book. Again, if you’re a first time reader or you don’t remember a lot of details, the book can swallow you in and you’ll be in a time warp for twenty-four hours (or until you finish reading it!) However, for us long time, very devoted Scarpetta fans, there is just too much in Depraved Heart that is not right. There are far too many details that completely contradict what Cornwell has written before and I can’t help but wonder what’s happening. Is Cornwell forgetting what she’s written in the past or does she just not think anyone will notice? Does she even care? I had an epiphany the other day and realized just why Depraved Heart has let me down. Are you ready for the answer? Are you sure?
Because Cornwell has made it seem like The Body Farm doesn’t even exist. One of my favorite books in the series has been disregarded by its own author.
Perhaps if I could get past everything that is so wrong in Depraved Heart, I would enjoy the book a lot more. Again, I realize this is a realm of fiction, these are just characters, and nothing is ever supposed to be perfect. I understand the age factor being off (even changed), but to practically rewrite something as brand new? The Carrie Grethen in the Depraved Heart videos is not the Carrie Grethen we were introduced to in The Body Farm. Maybe if The Body Farm wasn’t so pivotal to the series, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But Cornwell made it a big deal when we learned Lucy was a lesbian and Carrie was her first love. It was a life changing experience for Lucy and also a huge launching pad for several books that followed. You can’t just disregard something that is so important.
If I could ask Cornwell one question, it would be why she rewrote the past for Depraved Heart. The foundation was set in The Body Farm and it was beautiful and solid. There was so much growth and potential there with the return of Carrie Grethen and the plethora of feelings and emotions Lucy has been dealing with since her “return.” Lucy has been reckless, careless even, and Carrie has been the only person in the entire series to ever shake her usual calm. I like seeing that side of Lucy, a lot. It makes her seem more real, more vulnerable, more human.
When I asked Cornwell on Twitter to describe Depraved Heart in three words, she replied with “The Past Isn’t.” I thought she was talking about Carrie Grethen. However, now it feels like she was referring to the past of the entire Scarpetta series. A past that’s important. A past that matters.
And, seriously? Not even following up on the “SNAP” at the end of Flesh and Blood?
Well, I guess it was just the snap of the lamp after all.
November 14, 2015