4 stars out of 5
Perusing other reviews of this book, the 24th in the author's series featuring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, I was a bit surprised to see a few naysayers. Yes, I agree the story moves along slowly (sometimes almost excruciatingly so) until the very end, where I, at least, got a jolt. Yes, the esteemed doctor remains what I'd call paranoid egotistical - everybody's out to get her but since she's so good at what she does, she somehow never quite understands why. But that said, in many ways the writing here is the best I've seen in the past few books. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!
In the beginning, Kay is prepping for a high-level presentation with a professional colleague. As she and hunky FBI profiler husband Benton Wesley stroll toward dinner in an exclusive Harvard University club, she discusses the upcoming unexpected visit from her not-so-beloved sister Dorothy - and, in typical fashion, tries to discern her motive for coming. Dorothy, for those who don't know, is the mother of Kay's technologically gifted niece Lucy - the one Kay pretty much raised as her own. Lucy and her partner, Janet, have settled down to take over the care and nurturing of Janet's late sister's son, Desi. While they play a key role in the book, Lucy is noticeably absent for most of it (not a problem for me since she's probably my least favorite recurring character, but other readers might miss her).
Just as Kay and Benton are about to sip their first glasses of fine wine, though, they both get calls that mean dinner will go on the back burner. A mid-20s woman, it seems, has been killed under rather mysterious circumstances as she rode her bicycle along the Charles River. At first, it appears she was struck by lightning; but no bad weather anywhere near the area coupled with other suspicious goings-on prompt Kay to conclude the death is no accident.
Meantime, Kay has been getting strange threatening messages from an anonymous source dubbed Tailend Charlie - someone who seems to have inside information about Kay's life that aren't public knowledge. When she gets another not long after the young woman's death, Kay begins to suspect there may be a connection - a suspicion she shares with her husband and longtime friend, investigator Pete Marino (who got a questionable phone call of his own). Evidence from the murder and the messages begins to converge, leading to the horrifying conclusion that long-time psychopathic nemesis Carrie Grethen may be the instigator, if not the killer.
Most of the story takes place over a couple of days, and many chapters are spent on processing the murder scene before the murdered bicyclist is even taken back to Kay's lab at the Cambridge Forensic Center (much less positively identified). As usual, there's tension between Kay and Benton, who necessarily must keep certain details of their cases to themselves even when those cases overlap. And in the end, the killer's modus operandi does turn out to be something a little far-fetched, but it's grounded enough within the realm of possibility that I found it both intriguing and a bit unsettling.
Chaos by Patricia Cornwell (William Morrow, November 2016); 400 pp.