A Book Spy Review: ‘Chaos’ By Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell Chaos.jpgReturning to star in her twenty-fourth novel, bestselling author Patricia Cornwell’s beloved medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta encounters one of her most bizarre cases yet.

When a beautiful young woman is killed after being struck by lightning while riding her bike next to the Kennedy School of Government, things seem pretty straightforward. Except that, you know, there was no lightning at the time of her death.

In fact, there were no storms at all. The weather was perfect on that beautiful autumn day, begging the question of how such an incident was possible.   

While at the scene of the woman’s death, Scarpetta, director of the Cambridge Forensic Center, quickly surmises that a random lightning strike was not the cause of death (obviously!). 

For a few weeks, Scarpetta had been receiving a string of harassing poems from someone who goes by the pseudonym of Tail End Charlie. But after the volume of poems increases in the twenty-four hours since Elisa Vandersteel was found dead next to her bicycle, Scarpetta begins to suspect that Charlie may be involved in the girl’s death.

Coming to help out with the investigation are Kay’s husband, Benton Wesley, an FBI analyst; her partner, Pete Marino; and Kay’s niece, Lucy. Together, but through different avenues, they all begin investigating what happened to Elisa Vandersteel, and what–if any–involvement Tail End Charlie might have had.

Things take a devious turn, though, when someone from Scarpetta’s past returns to cause nothing but chaos for the beloved medical examiner. 

Lots of authors struggle with how much backstory to write about their series character in each new book. This was the first time, however, that Cornwell seems to have missed the mark in quickly getting readers up to speed on past events before moving on to the present story. 

Instead, Chaos begins with a rather choppy first few chapters. The focal point of the story, Vandersteel’s biking accident, doesn’t even occur until around the seventy-page mark. That’s not to suggest everything prior to that is useless. On the contrary, much of the stage is set during those chapters, but that is when the plot and pacing really take off. 

Once Scarpetta is on the job, Chaos is vintage Cornwell. The plot and characters come to life and the story takes flight in a big way. 

Like always, Cornwell, a former computer analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia, delivers some of the most informative, realistic medical examinations in print today. Her autopsy scenes continue to be unmatched in their authenticity and stomach-churning realism. 

Readers will be intrigued enough with the investigation to breeze through the final two-thirds, and, with a few tricks up her sleeve, Patricia Cornwell still knows how to keep even her longtime fans off-balance. One of her better twists will be more impactful for those who have read other Scarpetta novels prior to this one, but it’s a solid reveal even for newcomers. Best of all, most will never see it coming. 

Outside of the investigation, a lot of the story is dedicated to Scarpetta’s personal life and character relationships. There’s also a plotline that involves a hostile media, who question whether Scarpetta knows what the heck she’s doing anymore. Like always, she’ll silence the doubters. Eventually.

Uncharacteristically, it takes Patricia Cornwell a little while to get going on this one. But once she does hit her stride, Cornwell reminds readers why she’s one of the most notable mystery writers of the past three decades. 

Even with a slow start, Chaos finishes strong and will leave readers excited for more Kay Scarpetta in the future. 

Book Details

Author: Patricia Cornwell
Series: Kay Scarpetta #24
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062436686
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: November 15, 2016 (Order Now!)

3 comments

  1. I have read every Patricia Cornwell book, and I agree and disagree with your review. Yes, it’s very slow to start, choppy and confused. Yes, things pick up at the crime scene. No, this is not enough to keep dedicated readers happy. There are many of us who desperately want her to get off the Carrie Grethen hobby horse and write about interesting cases which are not unrealistically masterminded by a criminal genius. I was enjoying the book until that name appeared, I had hoped Cornwell had got the message! But alas, it was not so. More paranoid behaviour and conspiracy – and more CHAOS than Cornwall likely intended. This is bad writing.

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  2. I agree with Alison above! I was able to skip almost entire chapters of old news! If this was a stand alone book then the rambling would have made some sense, but seriously! I was bored stiff and could have predicted the end, even that Carrie would amazingly not die! I love this series but this one was a waste of time!

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  3. I, too have been an avid Patricia Cornwell fan, particularly of the first ten books or so, and I am not usually a ‘skipper’ but this book is soooo boring and I’m only just getting to the murder scene. I didn’t finish XO either for the same reason. I’m not going to finish this one either, because life is too short. I don’t know what’s happening but I won’t be buying another Patricia Cornwell book until I read the reviews next time. So sad because Kay Scarpetta in her prime, was brilliant!

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