So the arrival in the post of Chaos, Cornwell’s 24th Kay Scarpetta novel, was a treat. I lit the fire, settled down on the sofa and read it from cover to cover. And yes, I was gripped from start to finish, my jaw dropping (metaphorically speaking) throughout at Cornwell’s clever, intricate plotting. Unlike some crime novels, where it’s possible to guess the outcome within a few pages, this book confounded me right till the very end.
This time round, ice-cool forensic sleuth Scarpetta is enduring a heatwave in Cambridge, the Massachusetts city where she lives and works. One evening she and her investigative sidekick Pete Marino are called to investigate the death of a cyclist, a young woman who appears to have been struck by lightning, which in the current weather conditions is impossible. In a strange twist Scarpetta had actually been chatting to the girl just a few hours earlier and had even warned her to be careful in the heat.
At the same time Marino and Benton Wesley, Scarpetta’s FBI agent husband, have been receiving suspicious calls, apparently from Interpol. Scarpetta is also being harassed by an anonymous cyberbully.
The storyline is pacy and engrossing but in my view the characterisation is even better. Scarpetta’s tricky relationship with sister Dorothy, her only sibling, is particularly fascinating. At the start of the book Dorothy has just flown in to Boston to hear Scarpetta give a lecture. The sleuth has no idea why – especially as Dorothy has never been interested in her till now and the pair couldn’t be more different.
If you haven’t read the earlier Scarpetta novels you’ll still enjoy this. But it’s probably best to get hold of the first one – Postmortem – and work your way through the lot. Trust me, if you like crime novels, you’ll love these.
Chaos by Patricia Cornwell (HarperCollins, £20)