Patricia Cornwell – Scarpetta

I have recently started – and scarcely less recently stopped – reading this book.  Cornwell is revered among thriller writers. Kim Hill, if I recall correctly, is a fan. For starters, I suspected the title: ‘Scar’ and ‘Pet’ juxtaposed like that.  Seemed facile.
By page 13 we have a protagonist talking to a Dr Thomas, gender unrevealed, but clearly a psychiatrist.  The presence of a psychiatrist, particularly so early, worries me because psychiatrists in a thriller are often just a cheap trick, a lazy writers’ mechanism for creating a dilemma for a  character. They also allow the writer to dodge the challenge of revealing a character’s motivation and proclivities through words and actions.

That alone would not have led me to snap the book shut at page 22 with a huff of dissatisfaction. I was just tired of trying to piece together the first three or so chapters by guesswork, which we have to do because they are missing. At least, that is how it reads. We are simply thrown into the action when it is already well under way. Person A is fuming about something Person B has done but we have not a clue what that is or why A is upset about it. And so forth. Eventually, of course, we will catch up, cotton on, find our bearings. What has been achieved? Nothing. And since not one character has, by page 22, captured my sympathy or even piqued my curiosity, the book is a gone coon.
Perhaps Cornwell is suffering by unconscious, unintended comparison with Evelyn Waugh, whose ‘Sword of Honour’ I have just finished. Waugh was a miracle worker. He describes almost nothing, or at least nothing physical. Characters go places, say things to each other, events occur, we meet new people, the books just roll on like life and yet somehow they reveal an extraordinary amount. They teach us, entertain us, and in the end we have the illusion of having almost become Guy Crouchback, we know him so well, pity him, admire him, love him. And is if that wasn’t enough we have experienced the English language having been put through its paces like  champion show-jumper achieving a perfect round.

Will we ever see his like again?

Jungle Eats the Jungle Eaters

Delicious irony du jour: one of the world’s leading environmental criminals has met his end by crashing into the very jungle he was planning to despoil. Yep, Ken Talbot, head of (can you believe it) Sundance Resources (cue projectile vomiting by Robert Redford) and a bunch of his cronies jetting out for a quick gloat over the millions he would make by flattening a few million hectares of the Congo rainforest has instead flattened a rather small patch personally, using the plane he was flying in.
That’s not the really good bit, however. The good bit is, assuming the plane didn’t burn and I’m praying it didn’t, his body and those of his mates will be right now, as I write, providing a feed for the troops of those very monkeys who would have soon been driven from their homes by today’s dinner.
But wait – there’s more… What if those monkeys are poached for their bushmeat and sold into the European bushmeat market?
Then, my friends, the molecules and mitochondria and the fat cells and the protein chains from these robber barons will enter the food chain of some of the very people Talbot and his cronies pushed first into homeless poverty and then into exile. LOL, I say.
Of course it doesn’t stop with monkeys. By night, hordes of vermin, rats, mice, myriad insects take over to carry the work forward. Until, finally, the ants. Millions of them, chewing, snipping away every last molecule of meat until only bone, pure white bone, remains. If we were there, wherever ‘there’ may be, we might perhaps catch a glimpse of white, gleaming in the shaft of light briefly punched by the light plane through the vast unbroken canopy of the rain forest.
Being the contemplative sort, I like to ponder the (up to) half-million dollar watches limply encircling those skeletal radii and ulnae. For the sportsmen like Talbot, perhaps the Ferrari special editor’s edition, going at a snip for yes, one half of one million dollars? (You have to own a Ferrari to buy one, don’t you know?) For the others, perhaps the odd Rolex Aviator certified chronometer, or, slipping ever so slightly down market, a Tag Heuer or two.  Chronometers of course. Goes without saying.
Think of them. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…..

PS. Two days later.

Unfortunately for my imagination, they found the plane and retrieved the bodies. Ah well….


I am very worried about the way the discussion, if you can call it that, about abortion has shaped up to be such a disaster for the Church.
The worst aspect of it is that it is being discussed and pronounced upon as if it was entirely sui generis, unrelated to any other matter which Catholics have to confront in their lives.
Think about this: I am a Catholic in modern times. I have a number of big, thorny issues to deal with and I expect and hope for a teaching from the Church which is all of a piece, one part consistent with another and all of it standing in the light of the gospels, the Acts, the letters of Paul and Timothy etc. Because all of those early writings present me with no dilemmas, no contradictions between one part and another.
Now we have abortion. We have contraception. We have pre-marital relations. We have war. We have questions of right livelihood in the teachings of Christ.
The Church’s views on reproductive issues seem to me to be out of sync not only with its other views and its views on the same matters in earlier times, but even with the first, founding principles delineated by Jesus Himself. Leaving me in a rather confused and unhappy state.
Consider war, first. The Church is apparently comfortable with the idea of a just war. History throws up unstoppable, mad mass murderers. Of course we have to make war against them. And in modern days that includes shooting and burning innocent young men the dictators have forced to sign up in their armies. It includes bombing the defenceless inhabitants of cities, including clergy and parishioners inside convents, churches, monasteries. Including (and here’s the irony in the abortion discussion) young pregnant women in cities which get carpet-bombed and fire-bombed.
Innocent life taken. No problem. Welcome to heaven, ye pilots and bomb-aimers, ye strategising air-vice-marshalls, for your cause was just.
Just, eh?
But hang on. Let’s look at that war which is now at a comfortable distance in time: WWII. Your quintessential ‘just war.’ Had to be fought – no question about that.
A truth which was buried by the propaganda of the time is that we should have kept Hitler talking. Given a few more months, so much could have and would have changed. WWII wouldn’t have got so out of control so fast. The declaration of war instantly trapped thousands of Jews who were days and hours away from leaving Europe inside Germany’s, Czechoslovakia’s and Poland’s borders. All but a handful of those thousands who would have escaped perished in the ghettos and concentration camps.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of the early combatants, those who were thrown into war thinking about what they were doing in spiritual terms, how tormented they must have felt, knowing that there was still so much to
do before arriving at the final necessity of war which was now never going to be done.
So much to think about. What about those generals who knew Hitler and were thinking about removing him? Suddenly that too was beyond the reach of the times.
Hell was unleashed on humanity and our mother the Church approved, it seems.
Why? Because inaction in the face of evil is a sin of omission. Fair enough – it is, too.
And yet,what was really behind that reluctance to rush to a moral position against war? There were powerful nations on both sides, nations with long Catholic traditions and massive Catholic assets at stake, gains and losses for the Church which demanded great circumspection.
We’re told that the Pope of the time secretly helped hundreds of Jews.
Secretly. How shameful. How unconscionable.
But of course, the Vatican is inside Rome. He had the Vatican’s independence and neutrality to protect. Obviously this was more important than the lives of thousands of Italian Jews.
We all know perfectly well what Jesus would have done in that situation. Instead, the Church protected its temples.
But hang on. Enough already. Vatican II owned up to all that, acknowledged openly that the Church had lost its way and set about bringing our faith back to something Jesus could be proud of. It did.
So why, now, has it so bent out of shape about abortion?
So little understanding for helpless, unfortunate young women with no prelates and princes of the Church on their side. All they get is the uncompromising lash of instant judgment.
How few there are like Bishop Pat, who has promised 100% help and support for any woman deciding against abortion. So many warped, eccentric looking freaks lined up outside clinics with tacky signs and giant crucifixes, spitting venom. It’s so ugly!

A young woman very close to me fell pregnant to a brute in a violent incident. She is clever, thoughtful. Along with many others, she believes that nature (i.e. genetics) is far more determinative of character than nurture.
She was either going to bear a child who had genes she wanted nothing to do with, a child perhaps who would might grow up to terrorise her as his or her father had, or she was going to race off to the clinic and put an end to this at that point microscopic growth process.
Not a human being. Not a human being at all. A being, by definition, be’s. Has a life of which it is conscious. Feels pain in a way that requires a nervous system, even a rudimentary one.
This collection of cells too small to cover my thumbnail did not have those qualities.
She stopped it growing. I supported her.
I am a Catholic.
Now, she has wrenched herself free from the P habit which had put her in that place, gone through a difficult and triumphant ‘cure’ and is now an amazing, beautiful young woman with her life ahead of her, instead of being an uneducated solo mother with a child she feared and a man lurking around using her as an income source.
She suffers for that abortion. It has left the pain that it should. Heaven forbid we should come to think of even the earliest, quickest termination as morally and psychologically colourless. Of course there is a harm done.
But murder it is simply not.
The truth is we simply cannot have certainty about this. Just as we cannot have certainty about laying sea-mines and depth charges. Or about bombing strategically important cities in a ‘just’ war. Life refuses to be that simple. We have to make choices.
I don’t pretend to certainty but I feel reasonably sure what Jesus would say, to my young friend.
Blessings and grace to you.
Not: Murderess! Bitch! You’ll pay in Hell! Which is precisely what far too many of Our Lord’s self-appointed spokespeople on earth would say and do say, every day.
Remember this: Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both felt elective abortion to be an acceptable option in some situations.
Remember that Mary Magdalene had almost certainly terminated pregnancies as all women of her profession have done through the ages.
So before you start damning people to Hell think about the company they might be keeping.