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Patricia Cornwell

The mark of an absent editor

Patricia Cornwell is generous with acknowledgments in her novels to the assistance people have given her in medical and technical matters. In Port Mortuary she also expresses gratitude to those who advised on military matters. There is, however, no gesture of thanks to an editor, and I think I know why.

She draws out at painful length the setup for the action, focusing with excruciating repetition on the turmoil within her central character, Kay Scarpetta. The denouement, when it finally arrives, is dispatched almost mechanically. Evidently, no one was around to suggest to the author that Port Mortuary would be a stronger novel if it were cut by a quarter or a...