Chaos - Sci-Fi from Patricia Cornwell
I was in my local bookshop today, in the micro section devoted to English language books, looking for something to read. This is the sort of section you are probably familiar with from airports, where only blockbusters such as Ken Follet, Jack Reacher, Harry Potter and every other kind of lowest common denominator, unreadable crap can be found. Among this collection of the usual suspects was a Patricia Cornwell book, a crime thriller from her Kay Scarpetta series.
I must admit, I’ve read more than one Kay Scarpetta novel over the years, and enjoyed them. Cornwell can write, and she includes a great deal of detail on forensic science, which I find interesting. Her novels are considered to have influenced the development of popular TV series on forensics such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. They are the very definition of mainstream, but that doesn’t mean they are bad.
It wasn’t just Cornwell’s journeyman skills that influenced me to buy the book, it’s called Chaos, I was also attracted by the blurb on the back of the paperback edition I found. It says:
Forensic pathologist Dr. Kay Scarpetta arrives at the scene to find a young woman has been attacked with almost superhuman force.
A second death shocks Scarpetta to her core. Because analysis of the body shows a material that doesn’t exist on earth. And it’s clear that someone, or something, is coming for her, and is hell-bent on creating chaos…
That all makes the book sound like sci-fi. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be, of course, but I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised if I turned out to be wrong about that. From the blurb, even if the book isn’t really sci-fi, there was the promise of at least a hint of the rum and the uncanny to add spice to the usual murders and serial-killers that Cornwell writes about so well.
I figured that it is entirely possible, given her weakness for out-there subjects such as Jack the Ripper, that she has gone completely bonkers and has now added aliens to the mix. I, for one, would absolutely welcome her adding sci-fi elements into her writing on a regular basis. Needles o say, that’s not what is going on here, but there are some speculative elements at play in the technology used by the killer.
Another sci-fi element that appears in the first couple of pages is a talk Scarpetta is planning, about the Columbia space shuttle disaster of 2003, and there is a hint of a conspiracy theory that it was shot down by aliens. This doesn’t come from Kay Scarpetta, but it is mentioned, and that did even more pique my interest as I was reading.
The story then meanders along assuming a familiarity with the characters, for readers who have devoured every installment of this series, while also doing a good job of quickly sketching them in a few broad brush strokes for readers, like me, who have only read one or two of the series, and slipping in plot summaries of earlier books where required. The pace is so leisurely that it is over 60 pages before the first dead body turns up. The methodical and insanely detailed descriptions of Medical Examiner procedures go on for page after page, chapter after chapter. But, like I said, that stuff interests me.
There is something else I noticed about the chapters, which is that despite the snail-slow unfolding of the plot, they are all kept short, and that’s interesting to me as an author. I have never really gotten my head completely around what to do about chapters, and it was very interesting to see Cornwell’s clipped and disciplined approach to them. She even ends numerous chapters in the middle of a scene, only to continue the next chapter in the very same scene, not even a couple of seconds later.
This is an idiosyncratic book, with a very slow and technical mid section, and only the merest hint of sci-fi, but it is still an enjoyable read. One again, Cornwell has churned out a solid book, with a twist at the end that will, no doubt, delight her fans.
Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
Galaxy Dog is an epic space opera. What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet, brings to light an ancient archaeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy. This is the story of his rise, and the story of the fierce and independent woman and the feisty robot who help him.