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Review: Chaos – Patricia Cornwell (2016, forensic mystery, Kay Scarpetta 24)

Review: Chaos – Patricia Cornwell (2016, forensic mystery, Kay Scarpetta 24)Author: Patricia Cornwell
Title: Chaos
Series: Scarpetta #24
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 400
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Genres: Mystery & Thriller

#1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Cornwell returns with the remarkable twenty-fourth thriller in her popular high-stakes series starring medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

In the quiet of twilight, on an early autumn day, twenty-six-year-old Elisa Vandersteel is killed while riding her bicycle along the Charles River. It appears she was struck by lightning—except the weather is perfectly clear with not a cloud in sight. Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the Cambridge Forensic Center’s director and chief, decides at the scene that this is no accidental Act of God.

Her investigation becomes complicated when she begins receiving a flurry of bizarre poems from an anonymous cyberbully who calls himself Tailend Charlie. Though subsequent lab results support Scarpetta’s conclusions, the threatening messages don’t stop. When the tenth poem arrives exactly twenty-four hours after Elisa’s death, Scarpetta begins to suspect the harasser is involved, and sounds the alarm to her investigative partner Pete Marino and her husband, FBI analyst Benton Wesley.

She also enlists the help of her niece, Lucy. But to Scarpetta’s surprise, tracking the slippery Tailend Charlie is nearly impossible, even for someone as brilliant as her niece. Also, Lucy can’t explain how this anonymous nemesis could have access to private information. To make matters worse, a venomous media is whipping the public into a frenzy, questioning the seasoned forensics chief’s judgment and "a quack cause of death on a par with spontaneous combustion."
Format: ARC
Also by this author: The Scarpetta Factor, Port Mortuary

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*

CHAOS is the twenty-fourth book in the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell.


In CHAOS, Dr. Kay Scarpetta deals with threatening emails from someone named Tailend Charlie, a false report of her abusing her chief of staff in public, her sister Dorothy coming to visit, and a new case that appears (yet doesn’t appear) to be a death by electrocution. The reader experiences the story from Kay’s first person point of view, written in present tense.

CHAOS is a character-driven story that delves deep into Kay’s psyche and her relationships with others. The story has a confrontation at the end that helps fit the book into the thriller genre, and Cornwell included excellent details about Kay’s examination of the body to establish this as another forensic investigation story. However, the pace and amount of character introspection are unusual for these genres. Readers should not expect a thrill-ride or a who-dun-it. Much of the crime-solving takes place off camera and none of it results directly from Kay’s findings, although her findings do help support the investigator’s case against the suspect.

My Likes

I really enjoyed the interactions between Kay and her husband Benton. It was interesting to watch them compartmentalize their professional and personal interests, while trying to not to impede what the other was trying to accomplish.

I also thought Cornwell did an excellent job of writing setting descriptions. Each setting was easy to visualize. Although I am not familiar with Boston, the city came alive for me as Scarpetta moved from location to location. I especially enjoyed the atmosphere created for the park at night.

Kay, Benton, Marino, and Lucy are like old friends to me. I have been reading Scarpetta novels since the beginning of the series, even though this is the first book I have reviewed on the blog. Patricia Cornwell has managed to keep all of the characters interesting over the years. I never tire of them. They are the reason I pick up the next book in the series. I like how they are each damaged and flawed in their own ways, yet they are good people at their cores. They want to do what is right. They make mistakes, which only endears me to them more.

One thing I really liked about CHAOS was how Kay managed to save the day all by herself. I appreciated that Benton didn’t have to rescue her this time.

My Dislikes

The book is very slow to reach the point where Kay actually begins to do what she’s an expert at doing.

I felt the prologue was unnecessary. Then, the first twenty-seven chapters or so were mostly setup about the problems. In chapter twenty-eight, Kay actually gets to examine the victim’s body. From this point forward, the story moves along at a much faster pace.

Another thing I didn’t care for was how everyone, including the FBI, just assumed that Carrie was involved. There wasn’t any evidence pointing them in her direction, and I didn’t find it plausible that they would all just jump on board with that theory with nothing to substantiate it.

My last complaint is that there were a lot of minor inconsistencies in details. This may because I was reading an advanced review copy, so I won’t hold it against the book too much. For example, Kay says Benton’s hair is white, then says it is platinum. Those are two different colors. Which color is his hair? Or, as another example, in one scene Marino is informed that his case is being taken over by the FBI. Then, in a future scene, Kay asks Benton when Marino will be informed that his case is being taken away. That was strange, considering she had been right there when Marino got the phone call.

My overall opinion

I did enjoy reading CHAOS. I would read future Scarpetta novels. If you are new to the series, I recommend you start at the beginning or at least a few books back so you can learn who all the characters are. If you are a Scarpetta fan like me, I hope you’ll enjoy CHAOS because we get to see more of the characters’ positive qualities in this one. Scarpetta’s not as whiny, Marino is not as scatterbrained, Benton isn’t as depressed, and Lucy isn’t as angry. Or, at least that’s how it seemed to me 🙂

My ratings:

  • Pace: C
  • Characters: A
  • Relationships/Romance: A
  • Setting/Worldbuilding: A
  • Plot: B
  • Prose: A
  • Overall: B (4 stars)

See the Scarpetta novels on Amazon

Visit the series page on Goodreads




Jen Schaper
I am a mom of three kids, a wife, and a wannabe author. For Books That Hook, I review books, create features and discussions, design the website, and do all the administrative stuff.

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