About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell – I have not read a Kay Scarpetta mystery since 2004. An offer from the publisher of a review copy of Chaos, the 24th book in the series, brought me back to reading about Dr. Scarpetta.

On an unseasonably hot and steamy September Boston evening Scarpetta slowly makes her way to the Harvard Faculty Club.

Along the way investigator Pete Marino abruptly stops her. He relates an unusual 911 call which alleges Scarpetta has harassed Bryce, her Chief of Staff at the Cambridge Forensic Lab.

Eventually Scarpetta and husband, Benton Wesley, meet and settle in for supper at the Club. She needs some relaxation as her sister, Dorothy, is flying in from Miami that evening and every visit is fraught with drama. Before they even get a chance to enjoy some wine each gets a phone call. They hustle to separate quiet spots in the Club.

Scarpetta is advised a woman’s body has been found a short distance from the club:

The woman’s body is on the fitness path along the river. Some of her clothing has been ripped off, her helmet more than twenty feet away, and there’s visible blood.

Clearly dead but a short time Scarpetta is skeptical of the information from the responding investigator that the body was stiff. It is too soon for rigor mortis.

On their way to the crime scene Marino tells her about a bizarre call he received from Interpol about a “developing situation in the park” just before being called by the investigator about the dead body.

The plot proceeds at a measured pace. After they arrive at the park a hundred pages go by before Scarpetta commences her examination of the body and forensic review of the death site. During those pages a few are spent on a walk around the body but most are back story.

She is delayed in examining the body because of the time taken to erect a 40’ x 30’ tent like structure to conceal the site from intrusive eyes and avoid contamination. The former reason appears to have little to do with science and actually prevents an immediate examination.

The book comes alive for me just over 200 pages in as Scarpetta enters a strange crime scene. The reason for death appears to be electrocution but the cause is elusive.

As she ends her careful and precise examination Wesley advises her that her mentor, Dr. Briggs, has died in mysterious circumstances in the perpetual pool at his home.

When I read early books in the series I was continually intrigued and surprised by Cornwell’s ability to come up with crimes requiring the latest in forensic scientific advances for detection and solution.

I was astonished in Chaos by a new method of murder involving electricity. I had not an inkling of how the murder was committed.  Much as I would like to discuss the murder to say more would spoil a brilliantly conceived method of murder.

If only the plot was not so burdened with all the personal stories that Cornwell is carrying forward from book to book.

I enjoy mysteries that delve into characters and like series that develop their lives. At the same time I appreciate authors who balance the personal lives and the mystery. I found Chaos heavy on the minutiae of the lives of the primary characters.

The ongoing battle with villain, Carrie Grethen, provides Scarpetta with a worthy adversary but the almost omnipotent evil stretches my credibility.

I accept that Scarpetta is heavily focused on herself. The whole series has reflected her self-absorption. I still find her interesting but the past has become cumbersome in Chaos. A good book could have been a great book with about a hundred pages of editing of the personal life plot lines.

I would be interested in reading the next in the series in the expectation there will be an interesting forensic investigation. Cornwell is exceptional in writing about science and murder. Hopefully an editor can help limit the personal plot lines.


  1. I'll admit, Bill, I've not read a Cornwell novel in a while. There was, I'll confess, one novel that got too far from credible for me, and I didn't continue the series. Still, I'm very glad you found things to like about this one. I agree with you that there needs to be a balance between personal-life issues and the mystery at hand. It's not an easy balance to strike, but there needs to be one.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I understand why you stopped reading the series.

  3. Soap Opera Mysteries - length usually gives it away. For me there is something wrong with a book when you can skip 10 pages at a clip and not miss a plot point. But, obviously there is a big audience ($). When the same Angst Reveling feature appears in a book that is less than 300 pages, then I am disappointed. Obviously, many writers have accomplished continuous character development in paragraphs (rather than pages) interlaced in the story. But I'm just a cranky old croaker sack.

  4. Bill: Thanks for the comment. Cranky and analytical.