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Book review: <i>Isle Of Dogs</i> by Patricia Cornwell

the cover of the book

If I were going to be quoted on the front cover of the next edition of this book, I would want my quote to say "Mind-blowingly appalling. Words simply cannot do justice to how low Patricia Cornwell has sunk."

The story

Who can tell? I'll be honest here people, I only made it to chapter four. With skimming. But from what I can gather, it's about a tough female Virginian police superintendent called "Hammer" (children of the eighties will immediately be turned off); Some idiot cop/journo who produces an anonymous website called "Trooper Truth" that marries policing and history and anthropology, the governor of Virginia about whose bowels I read far too much about and who thinks "Trooper Truth" is full of hidden messages to him about how to deal with his constituency, and some chick called Unique who runs around slicing and dicing people, and being some kind of incarnate evil thing.

Obviously, there's more to the story than that, but I frankly had no intention of reading further.

The style

Where should I start? As regular readers would know, I'll basically finish reading any old trash, but page twenty eight was where I decided I was wasting my life on this one. Some misguided soul wrote on the dust jacket "move over Carl Hiaasen, you've got company!" Well, maybe, if by "company" you mean "I can write both their names in the following sentence: "Cornwell and Hiaasen are nothing alike, in fact, it would be a travesty to compare them." Let's get to the nitty gritty, shall we?

None of the characters are remotely compelling. Because the book is written in the third person limited, Cornwell should have spent time building each character further before moving to the next one, so that the reader develops at least a small emotional investment, or even an interest. Stephen King does this to great effect with empathy, and Carl Hiaasen does it by making his characters whacky, off-beat, and interesting so you just want to know more. Not the case here. And generally, even if the characterisation sucks, a good detective fiction will reel you in using the crime itself. The reader should be immediately compelled to want more, and to want it solved. I didn't give two hoots about the crimes I read about in the beginning, because of an excess of character shifting and not enough emphasis on anything to ground me as a reader and anchor me to the story.

This story was supposed to be witty. That was why the comparison to Hiaasen was made, apparently - Cornwell is making sly digs at bureaucracy and getting into a bit of political satire. Fine. Some authors, like Hiaasen and Ben Elton, can do this to great effect. But really, the writer needs a keen eye for detail and a sense of humour. And, in this case, I spent two pages reading about a governor who has intestinal problems who conducted telephone business from the toilet with explosive noises coming out of his arse freaking out the person on the other end of the phone. Firstly, can anyone say juvenile? Secondly, yes, satire has to have an element of the ridiculous, but it should also be witty. And that, I'm afraid, just isn't. It's shit like that (excuse the pun) that turns me off reading the rest of the book.

Patricia Cornwell, I expected better from you. While I didn't love Kay Scarpetta and her increasingly gruesome crime solving, at least I was able to get through those books. I didn't even find them offensive. I would even go so far to say I enjoyed them a little. Go back to Scarpetta or the like! But to say Isle Of Dogs was not your finest hour is really being generous.

Who is this book for?

I'm sorry, I just can't answer this question. An enemy? Someone requiring a doorstop or some kindling? Whoever wrote the reviews for the San Fran Examiner and USA Today?

If you like this book, you would also like...

Being really bored. Why don't you just stare at that blank wall for a couple of hours?

In short

Title: Isle Of Dogs
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN: 039914739X
Year published: 2001
Pages: 421
Genre(s): Fiction
Review Type: 


Worst book EVER!!!! Wish I had read this review first but purchased for 20c at a charity shop. Terrible terrible piece of crap. Intestinal problems aside, WTF was with the crabs narrative, the black characters talking like Uncle Remus and jokes about Regina rhyming with genitalia. I am not a huge fan but Cornwell is an easy read usually (though I am disturbed by the female characters like Scarpetta being based on her esp. with all the references to the men all wanting her- EGO!). The isle of Dogs is so bad I am consdering destroying it so that noone will have to read it. The world would be a better place

I've read a number of Ms. Cornwell's books. They are "light" but entertaining. When I came across this joke of a book I tried to contact her. I even wrote to the University but never got a response. That was years ago and I came across this page by accident today and was so excited to know I wasn't alone in my assessment of the book. Actually I'm convinced that Patricia Cornwell did not write Isle. There must have been a publishing deadline and someone attempted to "ghost" write for her.