Finishing one of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta novels is never a cathartic experience and this certainly holds true for this one. "The Last Precinct" is unusual because it picks up within 24 hours of where the previous Scarpetta novel, "Black Notice," left off (usually much more time has passed with things happening like people getting blown up by bombs or something equally significant). Scarpetta is still reeling from the attempt by Jean-Baptiste Chandonne, a.k.a. Le Loup-Garou or The Werewolf." It is insufficient to say that you if you have not read "Black Notice" you will have trouble following the events in this novel, because "The Last Precinct" does some major revisionist history on virtually every major person and event in Scarpetta's life, particularly Benton. The main narrative thread in this novel is that, in a grotesque turn of events, Scarpetta is implicated in the brutal murder of Diane Bray, Chandonne's previous victim and one of Scarpetta's many nemises. It seems Scarpetta is not going to get away from being victimized from this most recent deranged killer to cross her path.
As always, the forensic details in Crowmell's novels are fascinating. Most crime fiction glosses over such things and even in Scarpetta's world rather obvious scientific facts have to be hammered home to the idiots in power over and over again. But these novels are always much more are Scarpetta's relationships with the people around here than the demented killers she is helping to track down. I always look forward to finding out what is up with Lucy in each novel: having given up on the FBI and now ATF, Lucy is ready to enter the private sector (it seems she's been doing some interesting things in her spare time). The novel's title refers to a newly formed investigative unit run by Lucy's old ATF boss, Teun McGovern. But the name takes on darken significance as more of this immense and convoluted plot are revealed. Like Scarpetta, we are asked to reconsider some of the major events in these novels in light of new and most revealing information.
In "The Last Precinct" the pivotal characters are a pair of women the professional equals of Scarpetta and the best parts of the book are her interactions with them. The first is a familiar face, Dr. Anna Zenner, who becomes Scarpetta's de facto counselor, a move that could end up hurting our heroine as much as it helps. The second is Jaime Berger, a first-rate prosecutor from New York who will apparently be handling much more than the Chandonne case, which is being moved to NYC for the worst of political reasons. This also a shadowy behind the scenes figure who has a big impact: Pete Marino's estranged son Rocky, a New York lawyer with mob connections who will be defending Chandonne, just to make things really interesting.
When you finish reading "The Last Precinct" you will certainly not feel a sense of cleansing relief. It is not because of the violent deaths and the detailed autopsies, but rather because with Cornwell it is never really over. At best Scarpetta has a chance to catch her breath before the next round of horrors for which she is the inevitable focal point begins again. Maybe this is just the middle part of an epic trilogy that will finally get us to the point where we can believe justice has been served, but I really have to doubt it given every other book in the series.