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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Bestselling author Patricia Cornwell made her first foray into the tension-filled, fast-paced, and often irreverent world of police departments with Hornet's Nest. In the sequel, Southern Cross, Cornwell resurrects Police Chief Judy Hammer; Hammer's right-hand woman, Deputy Chief Virginia West; and West's much younger love interest, newspaper reporter turned police officer Andy Brazil. Only this time the trio has hauled their crime-fighting expertise and their weighty emotional baggage to a new location: Richmond, Virginia.
Still coming to terms with the death of her husband, Seth, and frustrated by her experiences with the Charlotte PD, Hammer has made a proposal to the National Institute of Justice to serve as a consultant to troubled police departments throughout the South. When she is hired by the city council to act as interim chief for a year to the much-beleaguered Richmond PD, she hauls West and Brazil along for the ride. Once there, they are greeted with as much enthusiasm as the second coming of the Civil War. But Hammer is nothing if not determined, and she makes a valiant effort to rally her force together with pep talks, motivational strategies, and COMSTAT -- a new computerized technology borrowed from the NYPD that monitors both crimes and the cops accountable for handling them.
Hammer's plans begin to unravel when she and West overhear part of a cell phone conversation between two men named Bubba and Smudge, who seem to be plotting a racially motivated, cold-blooded murder. Before Hammer has a chance to look into the ominous phone call, a number of other incidents focus her attention elsewhere. First, a hacker breaks into the COMSTAT system and renders it inoperable, leaving a fish-covered grid map of Richmond on the screen. Next, the city's populace grows restless over a string of increasingly daring ATM robberies, the most recent of which involves the execution-style murder of an innocent old woman. The final straw comes when a very talented graffiti artist sneaks into Hollywood Cemetery -- the much revered burial ground for Richmond's most famous and infamous -- and paints a statue of Civil War hero Jefferson Davis to look like a black basketball player. When the local press gets wind of what's going on, the pressure on Hammer and her colleagues increases.
As Hammer struggles to get both Richmond and her uncooperative police force under control, Brazil and West struggle with one another and the apparent death of their burgeoning love affair. Brazil's attention is diverted by the travails of 14-year-old Weed Gardener, a young man with a dark secret and an exceptional talent. Reeling from the tragic death of his beloved older brother and his mother's subsequent emotional withdrawal, Weed makes the tragic mistake of getting involved with a teenage sociopath named Smoke, the leader of a small but deadly gang known as the Pikes and the source of much of Hammer's troubles. As Smoke's thirst for mayhem and murder grows, it sets him on a collision course with Hammer and her crew, who find themselves in a race with death as they try to stop Smoke from committing mass murder.
Rounding out the cast of characters and adding to the fun by further hampering Hammer's every effort is a hapless redneck named Butner Fluck IV, or Bubba to his friends. Growing up with the name But Fluck has made Bubba overly sensitive, and when combined with his flair for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Bubba's travails bring high hilarity to the story.
Cornwell's liberal use of real landmarks and her intricate knowledge of Richmond's eclectic and often eccentric residents offers a comical and, at times, scathingly satirical look at a city where some still believe the War of Northern Aggression never ended. Irreverence and fear walk hand-in-hand through the pages, toying with the reader's emotions in a delicious mix. There's even a little treat for sharp-eyed, die-hard Scarpetta fans.
With Southern Cross, Cornwell proves once again that she is a master storyteller who can balance a wicked sense of humor with chilling insight into the mind of the most frightening criminals. This book is a roller-coaster ride filled with terrifying plunges and spine-tingling fun. Watch out, Scarpetta. Hammer and her crew may just give you a run for your money.