Chaos is here.
Cornwell’s latest Kay Scarpetta novel begins in the sweltering heat of late summer on the Harvard campus. The twenty-fourth entry in the series promises chaos, and it’s not in the form of Kay’s sister, Dorothy.
The book’s synopsis informs us that a young woman “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.”
Though there’s a prologue, the story truly begins with the first chapter when Marino contacts Kay about an anonymous call to 911. The caller alerted dispatchers about a heated confrontation between Kay and her assistant, Bryce. The witness clearly misconstrued what he (or she) saw, but there’s a strong suggestion that this was done deliberately. And when a video of Marino investigating the incident surfaces on Twitter, Marino theorizes to Kay: “We’re under surveillance, and the question is who and why.”
Could it be Tailend Charlie? Kay’s niece, Lucy, received a communication around the same time as the nine-one-one call. More on that in a bit.
In a moment of foreshadowing, Chapter Four begins with an encounter. Kay meets a young woman on a bicycle. Coincidentally, she met this bicyclist earlier in the day while picking up theater tickets. Considering the synopsis, it’s reasonable to assume we’ve met the victim-to-be.
But first, Kay spends an evening with her husband, Benton, at the Faculty Club. She describes their being seated at a table as being “deployed” so that “we can keep up our scan of what’s around us, making sure nothing could surprise us from behind or through the glass.” This is a sentiment that has crept along, spoken and unspoken, throughout much of the narrative so far keeping one on edge. There’s no question something’s going to happen, but what exactly. Is it just the impending crime spoken of in the synopsis or is Kay being targeted?
At dinner, Kay and Benton discuss the 911 call, and Kay gets to hear the recorded conversation with the dispatcher. And in an all too chilling reveal, we learn the call was made at precisely “twelve minutes past six.” 6:12. It’s the exact time Tailend Charlie has been e-mailing threats to Kay. It’s also significant as Kay’s birthday is June 12th.
“The miscreant could be right in front of us. And there’s no thought much scarier than that,” Kay remarks. Later she intuits “something sinister has been tampering with us all day and probably for longer than that.”
Dinner is interrupted when both Kay and Benton get calls (which may or may not be related).
Marino alerts Kay that body has been found near the Charles River. A young woman on a bicycle. She’s reportedly found “stiff” and with her bike helmet yards away.
The woman, identified as Elisa Vandersteel, turns out to be the one Kay last saw just one hour ago. Yet how could it appear as if rigor has already set in? Complicating matters is a phone call Marino received. An Interpol agent contacted him about the bicyclist’s death, citing it as “a sudden death that had international consequences.” But the call turns out to be bogus.
Someone is indeed playing them, and the deepening mystery is truly off and running…
I should mention that the book’s prologue is a bit strange. It’s seems unnecessary, but perhaps serves as insight into Kay’s relationship with her sister, Dorothy. Now, I’m coming into this as a new reader and perhaps this opening is more insightful for longtime readers.
For me, the hook came early in the first chapter when Marino calls Kay and it’s clear something is afoot. The fact that it was apparent that something was off about the call intrigued me and kept me reading to find out more.
Then there were the mentions of the cyberbully Tailend Charlie. My presumption is that Tailend Charlie has been referenced or introduced in the previous or earlier books. Sort of like a nemesis. But this may not be the case.
And then there’s the murder. Not wanting to rush to judgment, Kay tries not to think of the bicyclist she encountered, but the details are too coincidental to ignore. And confirmation soon follows. What’s not initial clear is how she died.
And this is where I end part one of my review. It’s not often I break up a review like this, but I think this book is one to savor. Much like Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice, which I previously reviewed in parts, Cornwell’s Chaos has captured my attention and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Part Two is coming shortly, so stay tuned…