In the novel, Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell, Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the main character, is house sitting for her deputy chief medical examiner. Dr. Scarpetta is the chief medical examiner for Richmond, Virginia. She receives a call from a police officer saying there is a dead body underwater at the Inactive Naval Ship Yard. The doctor receives another phone call from a Detective Roche saying the same thing. Dr. Scarpetta informs the detective that she already knows about the body from another officer. She gives the name and Roche says there is no officer with that name. She heads toward the shipyard and meets Captain Green from the Nay Investigations Service. And he tells her that the victim is reporter Ted Eddings. Dr. Scarpetta then prepares to dive for the body.
Dr. Scarpetta dives and retrieves the body. She takes him to the medical examinerâ€™s office and does an autopsy. Among his possessions, they find a waterproof gun. Also, Dr. Scarpetta smells cyanide and thinks he is murdered, not drowned. The doctor asks a friend, Captain Pete Marino of the Richmond police force, to solve Eddingsâ€™ murder. They leave the morgue together and she asks him to spend New Yearâ€™s Eve with herself and her niece, Lucy. Lucy is a FBT agent and also a computer genius.
Together, they talk about the case. Then Marino says he has searched Eddingsâ€™ apartment and found several handguns, machine guns, and survivalist magazines. The doctor and Lucy talk while Marino goes to get wood and the see a prowler .
and chase him. The prowler gets away and they find out the prowler used dive boots. Marino then tells the doctor and Lucy about the book found in Eddingsâ€™ apartment. It was from a religious cult and was filled with details on how to maim, kill, frighten, brainwash, and torture. The book belonged to someone named Dwain Sharpiro, who was also murdered. .
Dr. Scarpetta, Captain Marino, and Lucy then find out that their tires have been punctured.