October 03, 1994 12:00 PM

by Patricia Cornwell

Even in death, something is wrong with Emily Steiner. The frail 11-year-old’s injuries don’t match the supposed time of her murder. Flesh has been sliced off her shoulder and thighs, and the frilly gift box placed inside her casket contains a strangled kitten. All of which suggest one thing to FBI consulting pathologist Kay Scarpetta: serial killer Temple Gault. (Scarpetta memorably matched wits with him in Cornwell’s last novel, Cruel and Unusual.)

Soon she’s not so sure. Though a second death seems to point to Gault, a possibly related string of crimes starts right inside FBI headquarters, where Scarpetta’s computer-whiz niece Lucy is working as an intern in the line of fire.

The medical examiner-sleuth races to catch the killer with all the pacing and suspense Corn-well’s fans have come to expect from her earlier mysteries. This time, however, she stumbles over self-conscious literary imagery and an unconvincing ending. Still, even if Cornwell fails to achieve the nightmare brilliance of Cruel and Unusual, her latest will cause a few sleepless nights. (Scribner’s, $23)

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